Labels are shortcuts. They allow us to easily dismiss the people to whom they are attached. If you ask a blind person what he would like more than anything else in the world (aside from regaining his sight) you’ll invariably get an answer like this: I want people to accept me as a person in spite of my handicap. I don’t want to be defined as a blind person. I want to be known as a person who happens to blind.

What the blind person is asking sounds suspiciously like something from the Sermon on the Mount. “Don’t label, and then you won’t be labeled.”

Labels not only can be turned outward, they can be turned inward. Labeling ourselves can start a pessimistic, downward spiral. “I can’t tell good jokes at parties” soon becomes “I’m no fun at parties” and eventually “People don’t want me around.”

People who overeat soon find themselves saying, “I’m the kind of person who overeats.” It’s a subtle, but damning difference. Or it can be “I’m the kind of person who has to keep smoking.”

The label becomes a shortcut way to deny the possibility of change.

Stephen Goforth