Labels are helpful when alphabetizing. Labels are good for organizing your pantry or your classroom or your financial files. A label like "stranger" is good when you teach a child about safety. Labels like movie ratings help us determine what type of movie we're getting ourselves into. Labels on prescriptions help keep us safe.
But labels that demean and belittle are unhelpful at best and can be destructive.
We all label people, so let's just get that out on the table. Sometimes we do it unconsciously, merely observing and categorizing: "He's tall. She's got curly hair." However, I think there is a hint of judgment in our labeling most of the time that can keep us from associating with other people, whether out of pride or fear.
I was reminded of the pain our society has inflicted on its people as I watched Lee Daniels' "The Butler" yesterday. I was fortunate to grow up in a home and a school where the color of a person's skin was irrelevant in determining who to associate with. Our little group was such a rainbow of ethnicities and cultural influences, and I loved each precious girl. Watching this movie yesterday...I just don't understand. Truly, I don't see what role the color of someone's skin plays in the content of their character - who they are inside. These types of labels are toxic not only to society as a whole but to the spirit of each person.
I just started going through a study by Max Lucado entitled "Dealing with Difficult People." We all have that person in our lives. I am hopeful that going through this study will equip me to face that person with more love and less impatience. In the first lesson, Max talks about labeling and provides a great definition:
"Labeling is drawing the conclusion before you know the facts. Labeling is the lazy effort of determining the character of the person without knowing the person."
Isn't that true? Labeling IS lazy. It takes the hard work out of relationships and lets you build up walls before making the effort to get to know someone.
The fact is, people label people. If I'm going to be labeled by anything, I want to be labeled by love. John 13:34-35 records Jesus telling his disciples how He wanted them to be labeled:
"...Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
I am reminded of a song by Christy Nockels entitled "By Our Love." There was a span of time when I listened to this song every morning because it prepared my heart for the day ahead. If we are going to be labeled, let it be by our love.
My goal is to work harder at not labeling people and not letting society's labels stand in my way.
Let them know us by our love.