Whether done consciously or unconsciously, we all are guilty of attaching labels to others at some point in our lives. It’s the same as pigeon-holing someone; you already have a preconceived idea about their character and abilities. Most often then not these ideas or labels are wrong. We are then left to feel ashamed of ourselves for being so judgemental and quick to label. It all happens in our minds, as thought forms. We don’t necessarily voice these thoughts but hold on to them privately. We assess and surmise as if we are experts on everything. Why do we do this, when we know what it feels like to live under the burden of labels?

Why do our minds race ahead and attach labels to people, places and experiences without any solid evidence to justify our thoughts?

For instance, it’s similar to judging a person with regard to their age. We might find ourselves looking at our elderly in the community and incorrectly assuming they are fragile, old-fashioned and forgetful. We might think they aren’t as vibrant or fit as they were in their former years. Of course, this may well be true in some cases, but it hardly applies to every elderly person. If a community or group of people consists of so many different individuals, how could one set of labels fit everyone? It’s virtually impossible

Labels help and assist us in a practical sense. When we are children they help us identify our school supplies from our friend’s. When we are adults they help us identify where we’ve placed things. They also display other useful information like ingredients and directions; the list goes on. But when they become detrimental to our confidence and become heavy to bear then they pose a problem.

Both positive and negative labels can affect people in many ways. Initially a positive label, such as intelligent or smart, may be taken as a compliment but with repetition may unconsciously become a label to work tirelessly to uphold. On the other hand, a negative label, like lazy, may have the same affect on a person. They may give up before they’ve even tried, choosing to bow to the label and in doing so, fulfil it. In either circumstance, the result is undesirable.

What’s worse is we find ourselves not only labouring under labels but believing them. We begin to attach truth to the labels others place on us and it becomes a challenge to shake them off. In some cases, there are those who use it as a motivating factor for change or to prove others wrong.

How often do we find ourselves pleasantly surprised when one of our labels doesn’t stick? When what we thought about someone goes completely unfounded? How happy we are to be wrong! By keeping an open mind, when meeting new people, visiting new places and trying new things, our lives become enriched; we are not intentionally barring ourselves from experiencing life in all its beauty and diversity. Labels can be harmful when they keep us stuck in old patterns of thought.

How do we begin to go beyond labels if we can’t get away from them?

Perhaps remembering what it feels like to be labelled is a start. By remaining conscious, we can learn to use them less, until hopefully, ideally, we don’t use them at all. There is a lovely sense of freedom in shedding your own labels and refraining from attaching them to others.