Stamping out labels

Labels are everywhere.  I have become careful of how insidious they can be, but also interested to discover how their crafty nature can be put to good use.

The world has become very busy, and we need to categorise and label people, to make life easier to process.  The problem with labels is that they are often a self-fulfilling judgement.  Even worse when the label comes from another person – you’ve just been branded.

The “talented musician” will see herself as such if she hears it enough.  And she’s quite likely to experience a bit of an identity meltdown if she starts to mess up notes on more challenging pieces.  Labelling can be done without realising it, even when you’re trying to be nice.  Either way it can be dangerous, worming its way into the way you see yourself.

But I have found that this process can also work in someone’s favour – you can use the nasty labelling thing to a more useful end.

An interesting case is the choice of words for your Twitter profile.  A while after joining, I summoned up the courage to change mine to “Experimenter. Writer. Doodler. Dog off a leash.”  I didn’t have any certificates to prove it, but it just felt right, and did reflect how I seemed to be filling many of my hours (and it was a whole lot better than “unemployed”).

Immediately after changing it, a surprising thing happened.  I felt more curious and frisky.  And I found myself taking a deeper interest in writing and art.  Even more surprising, I found that people responded to me differently.  Whether total strangers connecting through the Internet, or existing acquaintances, I found I was being contacted to be asked for book reviews or minor collaborations “as a fellow writer”, I began designing invitations and business cards for people, and some people also recommended me for freelance writing gigs.

Wow!  Quite a thing, for someone who throughout his life up until 2011 labelled himself a creative minnow, capable of little more than a pie chart with a daring splash of pink.

It goes to show the power of language.  I am now very careful with labels.  If I stamp people with labels that they did not write, I am in great danger of messing with their head, or missing out on the chance to learn about the real them.  Instead, I’ll just worry about what names I’m giving myself.


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