Andres Aullet

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What is in a label? Should we change the way we use them?

We humans are experts at classifying things. We can sort and find patterns even when they are subtle, and sometimes we even invent patterns where there are none.

Many experiments have highlighted our strong drive to clearly define the groups we belong (or don't belong) to, and this definition has a very tangible effect on our behavior towards others.

Naturally, when we meet someone, our first hand experience is very limited, and this causes an uncertainty and ambiguity that feels uncomfortable. Labels are shortcuts we use when we don't have enough time to learn more about a particular individual, yet we need to reduce this ambiguity and uncertainty to a tolerable level.

Yet it appears as if once we attach a label to somebody, it is very hard to "un-label" them. So, in a sense, we "paint" them with characteristics that they may or may not have in reality, and this paint is very "sticky".

What is the purpose of these labels? are we using them for that purpose or are we over-using them? And if we are, is there a way to use labels differently to reduces the risk of over-using them?

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    Dec 8 2011: A label is a name for a definition that already exists. It is the reverse of words that exist and need to be defined in a context. When people use labels they tend to believe they already have the context and now they are giving it a title or a headline. The problem is that quite often the people we label are actually more complex than the context itself. I like to naively assume that people label for simplicity and speed not because they think the sum total of a human being rests in one or two very limited descriptions of them.

    However I have often encountered people who seem to think it actually feasible for people to be the sum total of the label we place upon them. Part of me thinks that the problem with labels lies with the priority of simplicity and speed over truly understanding someone. However this would overlook the perception question. Ultimately everyone is blinkered by their own subjectivity. To argue that there is an objective version of ourselves that others could see if they really tried is erroneous. Thus even if labels did not exist, misrepresentations always would. Perhaps they would be more nuanced or more varied but they would still be in existence.

    As a black female who has been a victim of many a misplaced label I am tempted to hate labels on principle. Some earlier has actually used the phrase 'i hate labels.' But by hating labels as a whole are we not 'labelling' labels as intrinsically bad? Generalising, stereotyping and sweeping statements are why we find ourselves uncomfortable with labels but not all of them do this. Sometimes certain scenarios, especially research-based ones, deem labels relevant. If we refuse them all and claim humans are individual in every single sense that will certainly soothe our egos but what else will it attain in terms of greater human understanding? We must have some sense of commonality between us, surely. Discrimination is overcome by realisation of this -- labels can reconcile as much as they can divide.
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      Dec 11 2011: Hi Victoria,

      Thank you for your very interesting comment!

      I am with you, I tend to be an optimist and give people the benefit of the doubt, in the sense that i assume they use labels for simplicity and speed.

      Unfortunately we have been raised to believe that time is money, and that we should always be optimizing the way we use our time. This places a burden on real understanding and i suspect it causes people to stay with whatever context a label brings and assume that is all there is. Few are willing to spend the time to understand the other and discover the real context

      Hating labels is indeed labeling them "bad" (i like that nice recursiveness). I think that as humans we will need to learn how to live with the ambiguity of of using labels and find this balance.

      And I fully agree with your last statement. Labels can reconcile as much as they can divide

      cheers!
  • Dec 1 2011: I think we do like lables. That why we extensively use them. I mean, we do things from which we want others to percieve some meaning, in other words to be labled. Specially in the name of status and identity. If we want to change some attitude towards something which was treated not that way, then we have to think a thousand times as poeple will change our lable If we do so. And usually that change of lable hurts. Here I am talking about those lables which we want to adhere to our personality.

    The bad thing about lables is their habit. We get use to that habit and can't think beyond that. We make friends or foes , love or loath, only due this habit we have. This labling acts like a filter . I don't think it is positive in any sense. Why to build an opinion about someone or something without having enough knowledge about it. Labling keeps us from TRYING.
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      Dec 1 2011: Well said Muhammad...
      "We get use to that habit and can't think beyond that",..... "This labling acts like a filter" and it is a way "to build an opinion about someone or something without having enough knowledge about it. Labling keeps us from TRYING".

      I agree... labeling keeps us from exploring all there is to learn about our "self" and others:>)
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      Dec 1 2011: I have been so guilty(you see, a label....)of getting in to the habit of labeling others and perceiving them through that label. As I stated earlier today, just for one day I have allowed myself to consider everything without labels. It has not been easy but it has been worthwhile. I plan to continue this new way of viewing my life and the people in it. I can feel my heart expanding and the possibilities lining up in front of me.
      Muhammad, you have given me even more to think about. Thank you.
      Colleen; your positive thoughts are infectious and I appreciate them very much.
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        Dec 2 2011: Thanks Sherrie, and good luck with the exploration. I believe it DOES expand the heart and mind when we change our labeling practices:>)
  • Dec 4 2011: I hate labels. It always bothers me when people are trying to tell me something about a third party and they'll say "you know the one, that lady whose got a weird laugh"......how about learning people's name. That is a great way to respect them and honor them. Then get to know them, who they are, not what they are. And even then, who someone is around me could be totally different from who they are around someone else. Humans are complex individuals. Labeling us into categories is convenient for organizing things on paper, at school, work, etc but I try very hard not to label anyone for fear I then jump to the next step.....stereotyping. Eeeeeeek!!

    Sometimes I love individuals because of who they are......but most of the time I love them despite it.

    I like what Colleen's mom told her, love the person, hate the behavior.
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      Dec 5 2011: Hi Mary,

      Colleen and Colleen's mother are absolutely right.

      Behavior is the problem; attitudes, egos, personalities, and ( but not limited to) in my opinion - multiculturalism are the multiple variables in which create social behavior towards strangers. In pop-psych culture the big five personally traits are pretty interesting to thinking about our relationships with others.

      I digress to the point if the people using the labels have thoughts ehind their labels, they must have a personality behind them also.

      Buddha denied being wise and said "I'm awake."

      Wise a label, no? What about awake? Words are just words. Ideas in letter formation.

      I disagree, I like labels.
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      Dec 5 2011: Mary and Nicholas,
      I'm honored that I could share a little information that can be useful, and I'm sure my mom, who passed away 22 years ago would be thrilled as well:>) She gave me SO much valuable (in my perception anyway) information that I share all the time. I label her my teacher:>)

      I agree Mary, that labeling is convenient for organizing things at times, and I also like opening the heart and mind to explore beyond the label.

      I also agree with you Nicholas, that it is not necessarily the label that is the challenge, but rather, the attitudes, egos, personalities and opinions we attach to the labels.

      If we could recognize labels as PART of the identifying information and open the heart and mind to explore further, perhaps we would be less likely to get "stuck" with a certain perception.
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        Dec 6 2011: Hi Colleen, I like your suggestion of using labels only transiently, to recognize that they can be useful as pointers (when used without malice), but that we have to complete the task of exploring further and understanding who the other person is, and transcend those labels.

        By the way, I think that in a very tangible way your mom continues to live through you. And just like her words have been able to reach us from far away in time and space, i hope our gratitude can circle back through you and reach her wherever she is.

        cheers
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          Dec 8 2011: Hi Andres,
          Yes, I think labels can be good information, then it is up to us as individuals to decide if we want to totally identify our "self" or others with the labels, or if we want to go beyond the labels and possibly discover something more about our "self" or others.

          Thanks for recognizing that about my mom. I feel her energy with me all the time, and I'm grateful for her as my teacher and life coach. What goes around, comes around:>)
  • Dec 2 2011: Using person first language is a good pactice, you simply put the person first when speaking. For instance, he is a person with a problem with alcohol, not he's an alcoholic. As human beings we are dynamic and have many parts to us, he or she is much more than an alcoholic. For example, they may be a good father/ mother, employee, person, friend, son, daughter etc. To simply label them an alcoholic is unfair and leaves you believing that's all they are. We are much more than one charactor or trait.
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      Dec 2 2011: This is a great lesson James...seperate the label, or a certain behavior from the person. My father was charming and friendly AND an abusive, violent person. My mother was an unconditionally loving person, who always used to say..."love the man...hate the behavior"..."he doesn't know how to love or be loved". There was a time as a teenager that I tried to hate him, because what he did at times was horrible. However, as an adult, I started exploring his background as a child and young adult, and I understood more about what my mother was saying. Nothing justified his behavior when he was angry and violent, but with my exploration of everything else that he was, I realized that his violent behavior was part of the whole. Hating him for one part of what he was, didn't serve any useful purpose. I am grateful to my mother's teaching, and it has freed me to look beyond a certain behavior to see as much of a person as s/he will allow.

      Sometimes, when we focus on a certain behavior in ourselves or others, that becomes the identifying factor, and it is difficult to move beyond it. When I volunteered with the dept. of corrections co-facilitating cognitive self change sessions for example, many of the guys would say..."I'm ADD...what do you expect!". They had been given that label as children, and had difficulty moving out of that identity. We tried to focus on other "parts" of them that were more beneficial to themselves and society.
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      Dec 2 2011: Hi James and Colleen !

      Interesting thoughts...but I am curious about one thing. I have a friend who has been a member of A.A. for years, and he insists that his identification of himself as an alcoholic is extremely important in terms of his self-acceptence and recovery. What I find so interesting is that he harbours no shame around his condition !

      Perhaps there are times when statements such as "I am______" are beneficial, at least as a starting point for change.

      What do you think ?
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        Dec 2 2011: Hi again Denis:>)
        You say..."What I find so interesting is that he harbours no shame around his condition !"
        I feel thankful that he has moved beyond shame. He apparently recognized something that was not working well in his life, and changed it. That is something to be proud of, is it not?

        As I said, in my first comment on this thread..."I respect people's classification of him/her self when s/he chooses to do so, and I do not "classify" someone or something in my heart and mind, because I feel that it limits me in how I percieve that person or situation, and I don't see any logical point in doing that to myself".

        If a person feels comfortable using a labed for hiim/her "self", I respect their choice, and it certainly gives me information about that person, but I don't limit my own perception of that person to ONLY that one piece of information. For example, if someone tells me s/he is alcoholic, I know in my heart and mind that is not ALL s/he is, and I am open to finding out other peices of that person's puzzle of life.
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          Dec 2 2011: Well thanks Colleen !

          We are alot alike, in this respect... if the label helps in terms of personal growth, it serves its purpose well !

          But if it somehow limits our perception to a single feature, it actually serves to filter out a person's fullness, and uniqueness ! In the case of those guys with A.D.D., it even served as a justification for their behaviour.

          And as to my friend, he is one of the most humble individuals whom I have ever met !

          " No pride...no shame " he often says, with the most joyful grin !

          So he intriques me ... because he does not take pride in his recovery, as if it were an accomplishment of some sort.

          I know it has to do with his private spirituality.
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      Dec 2 2011: Thanks for your insight James!

      Reminding ourselves to see the person first and forget about the labels is an excellent suggestion.

      Thank you too Colleen for sharing those examples of behaviors that seem to defy clear labeling.

      I think you two just hit a very interesting point that I had not considered when asking the question. The fact that sometimes labels conflict clearly with other labels.

      As mentioned before, sometimes I use labels for myself as shortcuts, but even then i have found in trouble when two labels seem incompatible ("what do you mean you are pro-life and pro-choice?") and i have to do a lot of explanation around it. I end up explaining specific behavior or convictions and the labels take second place

      Now, like Denis says too, sometimes labels are very useful in helping ourselves, specifically when struggling with some behavior like drinking. Rather than abolishing labels, the purpose of my question was precisely this, figure out in which ways we can use labels for betterment instead of detriment

      Great comments!
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        Dec 2 2011: Yes Andres,
        Sometimes labels conflict clearly with other labels. With my father for example, 20 years after his death, he is still remembered as a rock of the community...always friendly, doing volunteer work for the school and church, etc. That is not exactly how we, in my family remember him. He carried many labels, personas, characteristics, beliefs and behaviors that were seen differently by different people, just as he showed different people different "parts" of his "self".

        I also have difficulty explaining my beliefs regarding the pro-life/pro-choice issue:>) How can we be both? It's not difficult for me to see, and it seems unusual to many people:>)

        I agree that labels serve a useful purpose at times to offer information, help us understand certain things about something or someone, and when/if we know how and why we're using labels, they can be beneficial to ourselves and others. I believe it is our attachment to lables that can cause challenges, because once we get attached to the label and the information it provides, it is difficult to see the person or situation in a different way. In my perception, we often deny ourselves the ability to get more information by labeling and attachment to the label.
  • Nov 30 2011: Labels are very damaging to many people and can and does destroy self esteem. I have scizophrenia and it carries many labels that could hurt me and once did, they don't anymore. I'm just like you with an obsticle I had to overcome no more no less. We should always try to lift each other up not down, all to often labels put people down and I don't think I need to make a list because it might hurt someones feelings who uses this site. Ask yourself is that really how I want to refer to another human being?
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      Dec 1 2011: James;
      You are very brave to discuss schizophrenia and the obstacles it presents in ones life. My brother deals with this and it isn't easy. Self Esteem is a label sometimes, good or bad. Be well, that is what I wish for you, what ever that means to you.
      • Dec 2 2011: Thank you Sherrie, I hope your brother is doing well, let him know that he can completely recover.
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    Nov 26 2011: Dear Andres...good question:>)
    You are right...we ARE experts in classifying everything, and with our classifications, we tend to put things in what we think/feel is "order". When we classify something, we sometimes think we "know" all there is to know about something or someone.

    I respect people's classification of him/her self when s/he chooses to do so, and I do not "classify" someone or something in my heart and mind, because I feel that it limits me in how I percieve that person or situation, and I don't see any logical point in doing that to myself.

    I agree that "once we attach a label to somebody, it is very hard to "un-label" them. So, in a sense, we "paint" them with characteristics that they may or may not have in reality, and this paint is very "sticky"....well said!!! I also believe that when we attach labels to ourselves, we experience the same "stickiness" and difficulty with moving on beyond the labels.

    I believe I "am" everything and nothing...I "do" everything and nothing...at any given moment I can "be" everything and nothing. That feels very freeing and unlimited to me:>)
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      Nov 26 2011: Hi Colleen,

      Yes even though i was refering mostly to labels that we use for others, it works on ourselves too.

      You made me remember some words I read long time ago: "argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours" (Richard Bach).

      I wonder if the reason for this "stickiness" is the fact that, as a society, we attribute an immense value to being consistent. Some people can forget whether your actions produce benefits or damage, and will praise them if they are "consistent"

      In a world that changes all the time, I think that we probably overvalue consistency
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        Dec 1 2011: Andres;
        I learn something new every day and today you and your topic have been my teacher. I have applied a label to my self for many years, more than one actually and today I am going to do an experiment..... I am going to remove all of my labels. Just for today I will be NOTHING and EVERYTHING and open my mind to the possibility that everyone and everything around me is also EVERYTHING and NOTHING.
        Thank you so much for this great conversation, it has been very freeing for me.
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        Dec 1 2011: Hi Andres,
        I sensed that you were refering to labels we use for others, and you're right...it works the same for ourselves. Generally, those who label others, are usually using labels for themselves as well. I don't percieve it as a way to maintain consistency, as much as a way to maintain control with the belief that we actually "know" more than we do!

        I LOVE the Bach quote...oh so true!!!
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      Dec 18 2011: Hi Don,

      I wasn't sure about the thumbs-up or no-thumbs-up and what was the correct choice... so i gave you thumbs-up just to be safe :-)

      I completely agree with your first and last statements. Labels are indeed crowd gathering tools... And we should become educated before using them.

      However, as for everybody who carries the label nazi sharing the same amount of blame i would tend to disagree. And I am not disagreeing because i think those acts are justifiable in any way, but because when we simply accept that "nazi" is bad and period, we close our eyes to understanding why those atrocities happened. Understanding does not mean justification.

      I do not accept the explanation that people do bad things because they are bad. I like to go to as deep as possible to the real causes. Do you remember the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority? I think it showed how much more complicated it is the phenomenon

      All this as an example to reiterate that indeed we must educate ourselves before using labels
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    Dec 7 2011: What is in a label? A lot of teeny tiny letters!
    I think labels should have some sort of electronic chip in them so that we can access the real information in a readable format for starters.
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    Dec 4 2011: If you really think about it the government have label the American's people as "human resources". Once a child is born in the American soil that child is subject to a birth certificate. We are the asset of the trust established by the birth certificate, and the social security number is the numbering or registration of the trust, allowing for the assets of the trust to be tracked, we are now owed by the States. Is unconstitutional if you think of it. The government have no right to legislate people to have an identification card or birth certificate, however, acknowledging citizens are ignorant of the Law the government is allowed to come up with ridiculous form of taxation against the American people. Our birth certificate in America are series of number that present a security stock exchange number on the World Stock Exchange, in which the American people are worth money to the International Bank. The soul purpose of this birth certificate is to use American people's ability to labor and pay back debt since the 1930s. So much for labeling.
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    Dec 2 2011: Yes, we should definitely change the way we use 'labels'. It's understandable why people use them because it helps us to organize the millions of thoughts being processed in our minds.

    If we all try to keep on open mind and be aware that we label people consciously, or not, then we can be more adaptable and dynamic with regards to labeling people with associated traits. Therefore, we can become more adept at readily and easily 'un-labeling' any unfair or 'incorrect' labels.
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    Nov 29 2011: In addition to the problem of one misusing labels is the sad case of people who feel obligated to conform their thinking, habits, and friends within the constraints of some label. I believe this is called "belonging to a community".....

    There is no stricter jailer than public opinion -- or worse, the convictions of a sect, political or ideological group, class, or 'social clique'.
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      Dec 1 2011: then again..... by being outside of all of that, there is a finite group which is know as the outcasts in some cases and in other cases as the freethinkers. In either case they are labeled as different and unique even if they are not trying to be labeled at all. the larger social group is wont to label every single thing in their path. I like the way you think, of course and am only playing the Devil's advocate, who, in this case is working on the side of "the community". I hope you see my humor.
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      Dec 1 2011: Thomas,
      There are many different ways to "belong to a community", and I don't think it is necessary to give up any part of our authenticity to "belong". I agree that public opinion, convictions of a sect, political or idological group, class or social clique can be a "jailer". I also believe that as consenting adults, we make choices as to how, why, when, where and with whom we want to connect, and in what way we want to be a part of the community.....or not.

      I believe we can create our unique lives within the structures of the community, when we find the balance that works best for us as individuals. I, for example have often been called different, unique, free spirit living in a fantasy world, not facing reality, etc., AND I am also an accepted and contributing member of the community.
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        Dec 2 2011: In a curious way, one can be considered by *others* as being part of their community while knowing inside one's own head that one is not..... I'm thinking of Yossarian (cf Catch-22). Sometimes its easier to let others think you "belong to their community" while observing it in astonishment, horror, or simple amusement.

        We don't always have a choice about being part of a community (from their point of view) but we sometimes do. We can either open our mouths and be ostracized, excommunicated or shunned, or just keep quiet and try to learn by watching.
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          Dec 2 2011: I agree Thomas...there are many different levels and perceptions of "belonging". In your previous comment, you mentioned people who are "obligated to conform their thinking, habits, and friends within the constraints of some label". In the comment above, you speak about how "one can be considered by *others* as being part of their community while knowing inside one's own head that one is not".

          I agree that people who are shunned may not have a choice about being part of a community, and that's where letting go of labels may be beneficial to all of us. People are usually "shunned" because s/he has a particular label...correct? If we suspend the labeling, we may discover that the shunned person has more to offer beyond the label?
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    Nov 29 2011: I agree that we overuse labels. That said, labels are an essential part of communicating identity. We create labels to fill in the blanks of our knowledge of other people but those people are free to use labels as well to help us see who they really are. I observe this part as our greatest failing. Too often we expect others to accept on faith who we are on the basis of zero evidence and this is unreasonable. What you look like matters. How we act matters. It speaks volumes as to who we are. If a certain mode of dress is the norm then you can expect people to create a negative label if you fail to honor that norm. If we want freedom to deviate and be individual., then we have to provide evidence that these differences are not a threat. The responsibility is on each of us to help others understand who we are through verbal and non verbal means.

    Now, back to the original statement. We do overuse labels even in the face of overwhelming evidence and that is usually a function of group bonding. Negative labels toward an outsider helps cement your position within your restricted group. Its a way of saying "we have everything we need for now and we're not taking on any new members".
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    Nov 28 2011: Labels are interesting in the sense that they effectively include yourself into a group while simultaneously excluding others from certain groups and the thinking/behaviors that are associated with said groups. Basically labels tell you what you can and cannot do.

    For example, a gangster can't walk his pet poodle down the street while listening to 80's one hit wonders on his ipod. He is expected to ride a lowrider, sell drugs, and occasionally rob a liquor store. At the same time a Christian can't frequent brothels and use hard drugs. They are expected to behave saintly and go to church every Sunday.

    As far as the purpose of labels go, I feel we use them not only to classify others to make quick predictions on how they will behave but also to give ourselves each a group to belong to. The key question is if they do more harm than good. Are we as individuals able to sacrifice the luxuries of prediction and community in order to get rid of this seemingly ingrained way of thinking?
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      Nov 28 2011: Hi Dylan,

      Great reply indeed. I laughed at the thought of the gangster walking his poodle down the street listening to 80's. I concur with you in questioning all the time whether a label is doing more harm than good.

      The classifying impulse and the use of mental shortcuts are here to stay. i suspect they are engrained in our dna so only a very drastic mutation would get rid of them.

      The way I deal with it is to try to be aware every time i am using a label or following a mental bias (and these are hard to catch!) and question myself. I still use them, although i would like to think i am using them more responsibly now than i used to.

      One problem is that we like consistency and it is upsetting when group definitions become fuzzy or when we find clear exceptions to our rules. Do we stop calling someone a gangster if we ever see him walking down the street with is poodle? do we stop calling someone a christian if he ever does hard drugs?

      cheers
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        Nov 29 2011: There are some of us who *dislike* consistency. Boredom's first cousin is consistency, and one often finds 'loners' deliberately avoid groups -- because those who love groups all seem predictable and boring.
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          Dec 1 2011: Thomas...what if the group isn't predictable or boring? what if the group is a place where people who are unpredictable can go to feel accepted and honored from time to time? Maybe people who think differently still need a place to be acknowledged for their differences? And maybe loners can come and check in from time to time to see if anyone is listening?
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    Nov 26 2011: I find labels appropriate. That is, if they are well thought out, in which labels should be relative to belief systems or the interest of the individual. Alcoholic is suitable for those whom binge drink regularly, is this not a label?

    Being a Christian is technically a label. It dictates your religious beliefs, faiths and rituals (usually) when you proclaim a religion. A christian will dictate they are that religion, in order for another to have an idea of their religious practices.

    I label my self religiously - religious naturalist.

    Labels such as jock, nerd, punk, skater, etc. Are trendy. Think about all the nicknames for trendies not used today from the 40s and 50's. Labels are used throughout history to label the different trends, people and behavior that were "the other" to cultures. An old and popular label is "moor."

    I think labels are not the problem, it is the shortsightedness, the patternicity and the mimetic comparisons that we perform naturally; as you state.. To fix that problem... is another topic.

    Let's hope trends where people realize that individuals are multitudes arise then we will find better labels! But there will always be competition also, so negative labels are not going away, but perhaps even those will become more sophisticated.
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      Nov 26 2011: Hi Nicholas, your comment sheds light on something that my question missed: there are different kinds of labels, and some are easier to accept and use than others.

      Your first examples: alcoholic or being a christian are somewhat close to single characteristic labels. Almost binary in a sense (if you drink more than the agreed tolerance level, that gives you the label of alcoholic. your religion is based on Christ, then your label is a christian). The characteristics these labels are meant to represent are generally agreed.

      But some other labels are much more complex (what is a liberal?, or a conservative?) There is a list of characteristics associated with each of this labels, so the clear-cut binary aspect is lost. Maybe some people are more liberal than others (if they fulfill 60% of the list of liberal attributes vs. 95%). Even worse, the mere list of characteristics that define these labels is not generally agreed.

      I like your idea that the realization that individuals are multitudes can help us find better labels.

      Now, I wonder what purpose do the negative labels have in a competitive environment. Is it to take credibility out of the "others"? reinforce our internal concept of "self vs. otherness"? provoke an irrational reaction? Are any of these fair play? is fairness even desirable?

      cheers
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        Nov 26 2011: I never was aware of a "label theory" lol! In response to Christian and alcoholic labels.

        If we are going to get into the idea of political labels, those are distractions more than they are anything else. We are founded on liberals, men who believed that if the government was mistreating the people, the people had a right to "remove" them from power. The word liberal used today is not the same, but you cannot be 100% of any label or belief system. Variances and degrees are in every idea, thought, belief, etc.

        Competition is in the "mimetic rivalry" we all perform consciously and unconsciously.

        You and I are the example and the mediator is the piano.

        We are both excellent pianist; there are two possible outcomes to this... We become friends and have friendly competition, in which the experience and fun is enough to satisfy ego. OR ... We become enemies and compete in and outside of playing the piano to satisfy ego.

        Second one occurs - You miss a key on Mozart 5th symphony in front of other pianist and myself. I call you Mozfart, it sticks, you must match me in the feud or tolerate the feud until you cannot deal with the mediator or myself.

        So, yes it is to take credibility out of others to satisfy ourselves (ego). And even though this is an artful mediator, the want to be the best overlaps any amount of intelligence it took to get there. The cultures of astronomy and physics were separate for years! Until stuff like Dark Matter came along (a new and strange mediator) that these cultures collided.

        As far as this all being "fair" I can't answer that. But it is in nature we compete, and if it is not on the hunting grounds, it is on the academic grounds.

        There is no universal bioethics or neuroethics, so I cannot say this is an irrationality, but it does seem to be a human error in thinking patterns. But that is not even fair to say because this "error" leads to people winning gold medals and competitions.

        To add: man vs. other is man vs. self
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    Nov 26 2011: Very good question Andres.
    I think labels are often a euphemism for prejudice, particularly in the two forbidden topics of conversation, religion and politics. Often truth gets shut-out by the untimely, and usually needless, application of labels. I tthink you have touched on one of TED's real attributes; open-minded exchange of opinion, knowledge and experience free of labels and prejudice.
    I love baseball and, believe it or not, I've learned a lot even from N.Y.Yankee fans! Go figure.
    Ben Hecht characterized prejudice as ". . . a raft onto which the shipwrecked mind clambers and paddles to safety."
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      Nov 26 2011: Hello Edward.

      Indeed I see labels many times used as mere reflection of our prejudices. And the characterization of these as the safety rafts where our shipwrecked mind clambers is quite on point.

      Needless to say, labels that are demeaning not only obscure the truth, but destroy any possibility of real communication.

      However, taking the simplistic definition of prejudice as a judgement a priori in the absence of more evidence, I can say that our brain is plagued with a multitude of these biases and shortcuts that must serve a purpose of allowing action when knowledge is limited. Do you see some use for labels as shortcuts? maybe with some caveats?
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        Nov 26 2011: I advocate the use of judiciously applied (the caveat) labels as a shortcut for expressing relevant fact(s). At the same time I condemn the capricious, needless application of labels.
        Take a look, Andres, at a conversation currently underway here on TED Conversations about "abolishing the word 'atheist' ".
        Here is a quote from Fredrich H. Jacobi: : To lay aside all prejudices, is to lay aside all principles. He who is destitute of principles is governed by whims."
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        Nov 26 2011: If I "attach an identifying slip" to your jacket, Libbey, I have an obligation to determine beforehand if that label is useful, true and relevant.
        Sadly, labels are often thrown around like confetti, improving or facilitating nothing, only making a mess.
        Words are powerful! Amen!
        • Nov 26 2011: whoops! OMG! so sorry - i just accidentally submitted and deleted my comment.
          label me: Clumsy.
          LOL
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    Dec 20 2011: I'm guilty as can be in the subject-matter of labelling as I do it unconsciously all the time. But I've developed my own way of reading people and I always look for one and one thing only in a person ... and this is the SMILE! :D
    It tells me all I need to know ...
    It defines my opinion and feelings ...
    It never disappoints or lies to me. :)

    I do not rely on this completely, of course, but it seems that this little thing is the most important factor in my evaluation of a person and I really can't find it negative in any way. If more serious labels are concerned I wish not to put them before I get to know the person a bit better ... have a few laughs, spend a few days, share a few memories ... together! The stamps remain for life so I wish not to rush into choosing them but still sometimes one just can't help it and you say: friend, enemy, good, bad, etc. "Divide and conquer" - the famous saying states! And we do ... 'cause we are thought so ... this is black ... this is white!

    Hopefully, on the way to the end we learn the shades of grey and how far they stretch for us. I prefer not to stretch them too much but then again this is strictly individual! In the meantime, we can try postponing the sign on the forehead and pondering more on our decision what we want to be seen as ... I suggest we first take a look inside and then outside of us ... after all the greatest changes start from within!
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    Dec 19 2011: From an evolutionary point of view it is perfectly understandable why we love labels so much. People started to group things pretty early in history. Including themselves. This is what made a group coherent and because of this: strong and powerful. Grouping objects, weapons made it clear what is the purpose of handling those. Labeling people as a hunter, as a gatherer, as a mother, as a shaman - this is what made society diverse and functional.

    Even nowadays people tend to label each other: you are small - you must have big ego then, you have a moustache like Hitler did - you must be a nationalsocialist, you are an expert of red wines - you must be an alcoholist. People have to do that, because the act of labeling (the whole process: observing, grouping and tagging) makes us powerful.

    Of course it leads to objects when there is a labeling which was meant to objective but it is not. For example: "healthy foods" sticker on various food products in the store. Why should I trust it if it is not me who put that tag on it based on my own observation. People will never trust any tag or label, unless it comes from a leader who is trustworthy enough to claim it true. And that's evolution again..

    Maybe it was confusing, sorry for that. :)
  • Dec 19 2011: Labels are for control. Having control over something (even if its just a name) lowers the fear over it. The worst fear is the unknown. THe best way to conquer the Fear/Unknown is to Control/Label it. "What is this contraption, maybe we shouldnt go near it." Dude its just a car."
  • Dec 18 2011: If a building had graffiti on it saying: "Car Wash". I'd ask somebody before I drive into the garage.
    Unless it's official and the owner says he sprayed that on, I wouldn't call the building a Car Wash.

    I say we should only use them on self-labeled people. It's is better to ask "Do you..." than "Are you...". Or just don't ask at all. :D
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    Dec 16 2011: I think labels are useful in generalizing only. In a structural sense as in products, music, etc.,...It has been agreed by some that words are key in the labels and that they often convey little in terms of truth about the object. As in "organic" or Andres example of the "Patriot Act". It's been found necessary to use two or three words presently where there was only one in music labels. For example Country Rock or Easy listening Jazz.
    If labels are perceived in a generalized sense and nothing more than a simple surface introduction, it's up to the individual to want to know or share more in communicating with others.
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    Dec 7 2011: I don’t think that is such thing like using to much labels, the labels are the way persons perceive us. A person is the total sum of all the things that he is, labels is just the way you perceive someone. Labels where born for necessity, we labels to describe something that we can’t see, the personality, if we don’t use label we probably talk like this “She is so….. I don’t know, she has something not to common.”

    People doesn’t like labels because they say the true, the way people see a person and maybe that person thought that he was different and better.

    Sometimes persons use label to hurt people, like if is a man “He is Gay”. That’s the problem the ignorance of power, people that doesn’t care others.
  • Dec 5 2011: So what about the ST lable.It used to mean sheep thief,however,the ST lable refer to a Saint.Everything change as time goes by.
  • Dec 2 2011: Labelling has been going on since long long time.Labelling helps people to get a sense of belonging.Tribes,religions,armies,political parties&consumerist societies thrive on labelling.The trouble starts when external labels confuse us about the real person.
    Self labelling arises out of a complex-both superiority and inferiority.A person who can overcome self labelling will find it easy to accept other people as they are, without labelling them.So it is best to work on self if do not care how others label you or you want to stop labelling others.
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    Dec 2 2011: Perhaps the problem is confusing labels with the objects we label. Or falling in love with our labels.

    As an exercise, it might be fun (taking a page from Randy Newman's song 'Short People') to walk down a street and categorize folks by their height today -- and then tomorrow by whether your friends are left-handed or right-handed. And the day after tomorrow (having forgotten the results of yesterday's exercise), categorize folks by the color of their shoes, and so on and so on day after day. Maybe after a couple of months of doing this we could fathom the depth of our labels (infinitely thin!) and of our proclivity to categorize (infinitely large).

    Frankly, I'm looking forward to the complete overthrow of the Linnean system for categorizing biological species in favor of one based on genetics. Oh, I must admit I don't mourn the demise of Dewey decimal system (libraries). Labels properly used (cf. Luttwak's 'Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook) can help one notice tiny differences which one might overlook otherwise, but once the diversity of subtle differences is appreciated, off to the garbage can.

    I might point out that one invariably 'dumbs down' one's finely graduated distinctions (and the associated labels) in conversations with others who don't 'grok' the distinctions. Sometimes it's much easier to just not engage in conversations with folks 'outside one's head' and simply have discussions 'within ones' head'. Then one can freely use or discard labels at will: this freedom is not found when one joins groups of real people, mired in confusion and in love with their labeling systems.
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    Dec 2 2011: Labels to me are interesting "guesses" of how a stranger will behave/think. Seeing as labeling won't go away any time soon, maybe we can view labels merely as "guesses" and actually find out the truth for ourselves. Who knows....we might have guessed wrong
  • Dec 2 2011: Yes,we can create the value, we have to believe that we can do better every day, including, the label has a special space in our memory, owing to it, we can optimize the label rules...okay!!!
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    Nov 26 2011: Hi Libbey... words are powerful indeed.

    Not long ago I was having a conversation with a friend about politics. During that conversation, one example came up that exemplifies how powerful words are: the way legislation is named by congress. In particular we were talking about the Patriot Act. How ironic that a legislation that grants the government the right to violate civic liberties is labeled in such a way that if you disagree with even a part of it you can be labeled unpatriotic.

    Many labels work because they exploit two very engrained human traits: our need for belonging and our fear of strangers. I won't make a moral judgement on whether these traits are good or bad. After all both these traits help in our survival.

    But I think that we should get educated to recognize when we are following either the unconscious need of belonging (everybody is waring new shoes, maybe i should get some too) or the unconscious fear of strangers (hmmm where is that accent from?). Conscience is the first step.
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      Dec 2 2011: It seems to me, Andres, that the route to liberation is to overcome the need for belonging and fear of strangers. The way one does this (in a practical way) is to live in a city and to enjoy one's anonymity amid a host of people who don't know you and who care little about you or the fact that you exist. There's 'comfort' in living in a village, but 'freedom' by living in a city. I refer y'all to Tonnies' concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemeinschaft_and_Gesellschaft .