The Problem with Labels: Part 1

“You look beyond the veil of form and separation. This is the realization of oneness. This is love.” –Eckhart Tolle

Who are you?  It is a simple question that we often ask without much thought.  We usually answer the question with a list of labels.  I’m a mother, daughter, sister, counselor, or Pennsylvanian.   We use labels to describe our physical characteristics, economic status, and aspects of our personality.  All of these labels help us to categorize and define ourselves.  Our brains love order and predictability.  The labels provide neat boxes for the brain to store information.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but there are two issues with using labels to describe ourselves.  The first issue is separation, which will be explored here.  The second issue, which is the difficulty in removing labels, will be discussed next week.

When we label something, it is defined as separate from all other things that do not share the same label.  From the time we are young, we are taught to label everything in our world.  A child beginning to speak will start with labels for objects; ball, banana, mom, or dad.   Having a label automatically defines it as a separate object.  Once we have a label for something we can objectify it.  The bird is separate from the tree, the drumstick is separate from the drum and you are separate from me.  Labeling things as separate is not a problem, but it becomes a problem when we fail to remember how interconnected everything really is.  What happens if we separate a plant from water or sunlight?  The plant can’t survive without either, so is the plant really a separate object?  What happened to the water or sunlight when it was absorbed into the plant?  Do we still consider the water separate when it is in the plant?  Under a microscope, we can still see the water molecules, but we don’t usually refer to a plant as water.  We as people are dependent on plants for food.  People could not live without plants, so are we separate?  By utilizing labels, we put nice borders around things, but when we really begin to think about it, we are all very interconnected and dependent on each other and the environment in order to survive.  Labels, and the separation that comes with the labels, blinds us to the interconnectedness that we experience here on Earth.   We are truly an interdependent part of a larger system.  We don’t think much about the system, because generally we see ourselves as separate from the system.  It is an illusion that has led us to make some damaging choices.

The next time you look at a person, become aware of the labels that come to mind.  Which ones are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad?’  Notice how the judgement of the label creates a sense of togetherness or separation.    When it is separation, are there connections that can be made?

Next week I will explore what happens when we begin removing the labels.

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