Paul Wesslund

The power of labels

Reading Time: 2 minutes

How would you label yourself? You get one word. OK, give yourself a two or three-word phrase. Is that fair? Accurate? Would it tell someone who you are? Red Sox fan? Farmer? Retired? Liberal?

And what would the person seeing that label conclude? Might it be filtered through their biases?

I’m working on a writing project where I’m thinking a lot about stigmas. How we categorize people. How we label people. I’m writing about addicts. Alcoholics. Evangelical Christians. What do those labels make you think of?

This particular blog post is inspired by a video I just watched and a book I’m reading.

The video is a political ad. I’m still mulling what I think about the politics of it, but it’s an extraordinary social statement for these days.

It’s an introductory ad for a newly-declared candidate running against Kentucky’s senior senator and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The ad is about labels. I won’t spoil it anymore, watch it for yourself (make sure you pay attention to very the beginning.) It’s well-conceived and well-executed commentary. Whatever you think of the politics, the candidate, Mike Broihier, is as right as a person can be when he observes, “Labels are powerful things.”

Don't Label MeThe book is Don’t Label Me. An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times, by Irshad Manji. I’ve only just started reading it. It looks like the incredible conversation in-store is between the author and her dog. I don’t know what I think about how that discussion is going to turn out, but one promising early sign is on the importance of us respecting each other, in all our differences. What made me pause was her exploration of the derivation of the word “respect,” coming from the Latin to see someone in a new light. Think about it. “Re,” as in “again.” And “spect,” meaning, see, as in “spectacles,” “spectator.”

Let’s give people the respect of taking a second look at them, whoever they are. Whoever we think they might be. Here’s an assignment for the day to make the world a better place: make an effort to avoid labeling someone.

More to explore

Is boycotting the Super Bowl the way to protest racial injustice and the National Football League’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick? iStock

Is there any point to boycotting the Super Bowl?

Reading Time: 4 minutes Colin Kaepernick was booted out of pro football for peacefully protesting police killings of people of color. Does it do any good to protest by not watching the Super Bowl?

The dread, and the hope, in saying what you think How a local columnist nailed what ails our public discussions

The dread, and the hope, in saying what you think

Reading Time: 5 minutes A newspaper columnist writes that we’ve gotten so mean, she dreads writing her column. It’s going to take a lot of hard, creative work to make us a more civil society.

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