Friday, May 13, 2005

A Guilty Labeller

In response to Mel's Discombobulated and Wondering, JudyH wrote about labels: "Labels lie. Examining the contents is still the best way to know what's in there." All of these posts are most worthwhile and thought-provoking.

I am discovering myself to be a labeller (in Canada and elsewhere and a labeler in America): quick to judge and pigeonhole people. Lately, I have jumped to conclusions about a commenter, and I begin to see that I do that type of thing rather frequently. JudyH is absolutely correct: we need to examine the contents.

But it's hard to do that with every bit of information or nuance of opinion that one comes across. There are too many boxes for us to take the time to open each one and examine them all in detail. Humans label because it is useful to us; it's the way we think. We categorize and label every form of life of which we are aware, be it bug, bird, mammal, reptile and what have you. We divide and categorize knowledge into subjects and disciplines because it is easier for us to digest that way and easier to find it again when we need it. It's how our brains work, how we must deal with the vast quantity of knowledge that is available.

At one stage, when I was teaching, there was an English Across the Curriculum doctrine floating around. Didn't come close to even working. I can teach English in a course designated for that, or at least make a fair attempt. However, when I made little attempts to pass some along some point of grammar or punctuation in geography class, I was met with blank looks and cavernous yawns. "Hey Teach, do you know what class this is? My brain isn't ready to absorb from the bounty of your knowledge of the language. Let's colour a map or sumpin."

What I am getting at, is that labels serve a purpose, and people can't help but use them. We can, however, make every effort to apply them less quickly and less stringently. We can be disposed to opening the boxes and examining the contents when we have cause to do so. I think we can be willing to re-assign labels. I also think that we can make more labels with more shades of colour, and we can stick them on less tightly so that they can be removed and changed when warranted.



Jennifer Swanepoel said...

Very thought-provoking, AC.

Melodee said...

Excellent points.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agreed that while labels and labeling have/has a bad name, some of it is necessary! Language is the act of labeling things, as is communication. But stubbornly holding on to a particular label is what give labels a bad name.

Heather Plett said...

Yes, you have a point. We all use labels to find some order in our world. I guess the trick is learning not to adhere them with crazy glue!