Labels are necessary in many fields and for many reasons. Doctors use labels to diagnose, treat, and refer patients to other specialized services. Teachers use labels to organize, test, grade, and categorize students. There is no doubt that labels are not going to go away, but it is important to think about how and why we label people. Our words matter. Our jobs, our looks, and our religion define how the world sees us and how we see ourselves and this is how we see others.
Labels are all around us in everyday life and we seldom ask why. We are labeled, and we learn to label at early ages and throughout life. Pastor, criminal, crazy, artistic, police officer, judge, teacher, unworthy, insignificant, shameful, low-life, fat, ugly, bad, good, selfish, worthy, lazy, incompetent, nice, rude are some of the labels that people commonly use and we need to talk about this. Getting the labels out in the open with our colleagues, friends, and family gives us the chance to discuss what the labels mean and why we use them. Is it appropriate to use labels?
Discussing labels will make us aware of our own thoughts and prejudices. Once we become aware of our own thoughts and prejudice we can make sense of them. We can accept that we are wrong sometimes. And as we become aware of how what we think and say affects how we treat others, we become more aware of how we want others to see us. Nobody wants to be the bad person that mistreats others.
There are things that we can do to remove stigmas and negative effects that happen because of labels. Be less judgmental and more supportive. Empowering other people is empowering. It feels good to make others feel good. Smile and the world smiles back. Don’t be judgmental and challenge your friends, but let your friends know how their words can affect other people in negative harmful ways. We catch more bees with honey. Identify stereotypes and negative feelings. Choose your words carefully, be supportive, and focus on the positive.
Doctors, teachers, and other professionals are going to label people as a way of communicating. Some children may need special education classes even though they are excellent athletes and mechanics. The criminal justice system labels people with an intent to deter crime and protect society. And there are a lot of negative effects that happen when people are labeled. Labels also change the way that we feel about ourselves. Someone that has been convicted of a felony may have a lower self-esteem and that can lead to other unacceptable behavior and even self-fulfilling prophecy. Felons often have a hard time entering back into society and finding employment after serving time in prison. Labeling theories hypothesize that official assignment as a deviant or criminal can lead to a person taking on the identity and criminal behaviors that eventually lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy with the person ending up in jail.
Labels ripple throughout our entire lifetimes and that is why it is so important to think about how and why we use labels. Labels can lead to changes in a patient’s self-esteem causing reduced contact with peers, unemployment, and even lead to deviant behavior. Labels can also increase confidence and self-esteem. With that in mind, it is important to consider the implications that labeling has on a person and on society.
Labels lead to a chain of events, but what is not accepted in one culture may be perfectly normal in another culture. Culture plays a huge role in labeling. Culture is more than just a person’s ethnicity. It can be a social group, a neighborhood, and even an occupation. Behavior that is accepted in one group may be thought of as deviant in another. For instance, here in the United States boys putting their hands in a basket full of stinging ants is not something anyone is going to do and if they did we would probably wonder if they had lost their mind. However, in Brazil boys put their hands in a basket full of stinging ants as an initiation process to show that they are brave. Other examples of cultural differences can be seen in the way that we think about time. In the United States and in Japan someone will be considered unreliable if they do not show up on time and are not punctual. In other countries though, people do not see time the same way and may be offended by our hurriedness. Labeling is an important subject to think about because in the real-world people are labeled at home by parents, in school by teachers and peers, and people are labeled by doctors when they are diagnosed with a disease or disorder. People are also labeled because of their occupation and income. Labels change the way the world looks at us and the way we look at ourselves.
Culturally deviance is decided by what is acceptable in a society and the United States is a mixture of many different cultures and not everyone has the same background experiences or values. People from different cultures will interpret experiences differently. Here in the United States laughing is seen as a sign of happiness, but in Japan laughing is seen as a sign of confusion and embarrassment. Commonwealth countries such as Ireland understand the word “compromise” to be a positive word because it means that two parties agree. Here in the United States, we think of compromise as giving in or giving up. Someone labeled as happy in the United States may be labeled as a confused lunatic in Japan and someone that is labeled a loser here in the United States for compromising may be praised in Ireland for their ability to negotiate compromise.