As I was driving to work one morning, I heard an interview of an author on NPR.  I can’t remember her name or that of the book, but what caught my attention was a comment by the interviewer.  At one point the interviewer said that he thought the author’s book was about challenging labels.  And she agreed that in part it is.

This got me thinking about labels and why we use them.

What exactly is a label?  According to Webster’s Dictionary a Label is “a slip of paper or cloth inscribed and affixed to something for identification or description.  i.e. The name is prominently displayed on the label.”  I read that and thought that can’t be right.  Well, it is right but not what the author and interviewer were talking about on the radio.

So I read further.  Webster’s Dictionary also had this to say about the word label.  “Written or printed matter accompanying an article to furnish identification or other information, a descriptive or identifying word or phrase, and a word or phrase used with a dictionary definition to provide additional information.”  Closer but still not quite what I was thinking.

Finally at one of the definitions of label was listed as “a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc.”  At last, what the author and interviewer on NPR were talking about.  

I had taken several Spanish classes in college.  One professor labeled everything in the classroom with their Spanish names.  The door was la puerta, etc.  I understood the use of the labels in this context.  It helped us to remember the Spanish names for everyday things.  Labels can be used for educational purposes.

In science there are labels for everything.  There are taxonomical groups and classifications for all creatures and plants.  Science has classifications for rocks, clouds, soil, weather, minerals, waves, etc.  The list of scientific classifications seems endless.  I decided to find out what my cat would be called.  In scientific terms the common house cat is part of the genus Felis, which is a small group containing about seven species (depending upon the classification scheme) but is most commonly known as Felis catus.  My domesticated feline has been further labeled by me as Angus LuLu Kanewischer McFangus.  But she will answer to Angus if she wants to and if it is her idea.  She is a cat after all.

Some labels are descriptive, similiar to an adjective.  For example, in the cartoon “Zootopia”  there is a scene when the Bunny goes to the police station to check in for her job for the first time.  There is a cheetah at the desk who calls her “cute.”  The bunny responds that it is okay for one bunny to call another bunny cute but not okay for another species to call a bunny cute.

Here are some other examples of descriptive labels.  If a person is from Japan, you would say that they are Japanese.  Labels can be job related.  A person working in a hospital may be a doctor, nurse, surgeon, etc. or you can say that they are a medical professional.

I had a conversation with a friend about this topic.  I told her about the interview.  We discussed how we have labeled people, being labeled by others and how that made us feel.  Yes, if you are breathing, you have at one time or another labeled another person.  We talked about the positive and negative effects of labels.

Labeling can be done in negative ways by judging an individual or a group of people by where they live, how they look, or how they live with negative language or terms.  I have found that people who label people negatively are often doing it out of their own insecurities.

Have you seen the John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club?”  There is a part at the end of the film when the individuals who are in detention “label” themselves.  The Princess.  The Jock.  The Criminal. etc.

It’s true.  Not only do we label places, things, and other people, but we label ourselves.

I label myself as an Artist and Creativity Coach.  I will even go so far as to call myself a Contemporary Narrative Collage Artist and an Installation Artist.  I also consider myself an avid hiker.  These are all labels that I gladly wear.

I am about to add another title to the labels that I give myself….. writer.  This new label is thanks in part to writing this blog, Cats Out of the Box.  It and the support of friends, family and the community of other bloggers has given me the courage to work on a novel and even try my hand at haiku poetry.

Here is what I think it comes down to.  We use labels to help us make sense of the world around us.  We can have fun with that.  We can choose how we use labels.  We decide if we are going to use labels in a positive way to support others or in a negative way to tear others down.  We can make labels as meaningful or meaningless as we want them to be.  It is up to us.

As for Angus, my Felis catus, I can see that she is curling up for a nap.  And myself, the artist, creativity coach, hiker and writer…… there is more creative work to be done.

5 thoughts on “Labels

  1. Truly said, its a matter of choice whether to use labels in a positive way or negative. I love the part where you concluded saying how it could be meaningful and the same thing could be as meaningless, if we choose to be.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Roslyn Gallagher says:

    Jill, Your blog never fails to get me thinking. This is one of your best musings. Thanks so much for sharing and do, write a book. Just compiling your stimulating blogs will be a gift to the world for us to hold onto. Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice and wonderful details,this post is awesome dear,thanks to writer,i really so happy for that..


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