Considering labels

Late in my teenage years, I went on a church camp. One of the group exercises involved each individual identifying a negative trait in somebody else and telling them (in front of the group), followed by the same person identifying a positive trait in their nominated individual. (I suspect that this exercise could have gone horribly wrong.)

I was informed that my negative trait was my stubbornness. I had to agree. My positive trait was my perseverance and persistence. I got annoyed. I felt short-changed. It was the same characteristic, just described in two different ways.

But it’s all in the labels. Independent or rebellious? Bossy or leadership material? Spontaneous or disorganised? Organised or uptight? It’s the same thing with a different label. Sometimes it’s good to be persistent in the face of obstacles, as it allows you to honour your commitments and achieve your goals. But when it stops you from asking for help when you need it, then it’s not persistence, it’s stupidity. (This is experience. I won’t bore you with the details.)

But here’s the thing. The labels don’t need to define you. They’re flatpack boxes that you can pull out when you need to, and put away when you don’t. One word doesn’t define who you are, but sometimes that one word, that one part of you, can open opportunities, and access attitudes that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

If you remember you’re courageous, you can defend yourself.

If you remember you are loved, you can try again.

If you remember you have epilepsy, you can avoid the flashy lights and alcohol, and still be a whole person (‘cos you have the epilepsy, the epilepsy doesn’t have you.)

If you remember that you are more than what these people at this time are saying about you, that there will be a time when good people say good things about you, you can choose your response, decide on the label you live by.

It’s a cardboard box. You don’t have to live in it.



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