Swanson: Consider A Life Without Labels

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By Gavin Swanson, Opinion Writer

What word would you use to describe yourself? Friend? Brother? Daughter? Republican? Feminist? Jewish? Black? Gay? Swedish? Gamer? Female? Whenever I’m asked to describe myself using words, there’s only one term that I’m ever really comfortable using to describe who I am: my name. Sure, if you’ve never met me and all you had to estimate my character by was my name, you might find it to be a tad useless. Maybe you’d wish that I was less pretentious and would just give the “appropriate” labels of who I am. Unfortunately, I don’t think someone’s character can be boiled down to the vague terms that we attach to ourselves in our current social environment.

This shouldn’t be taken as an attack or condemnation of those who do find these labels to be essential to their identity. Many take pride in their labels and find a sense of security in them. I, however, find the majority of them to be useless in describing who I am. By simply giving out the list of labels that can be attributed to myself, I feel like you learn nothing about me except for things that I cannot influence about my person and basic beliefs. What do you learn about me when I tell you that I’m Korean aside from the fact that I may look a certain way and was raised in a certain culture? What do you learn about me when I tell you that I’m a movie-lover aside from the fact that I enjoy a hobby and a form of entertainment that makes billions from how much people worldwide indulge in it?

I also use avoiding labels as an effective way to keep my conscious clear ideologically. I don’t actively practice a religion or pray to a god. What word would you use to describe that person? An atheist, right? But being labeled as an atheist carries the negative connotation of acting intellectually superior to those who believe and being a jerk to those who don’t see things the way I do. Why should I have the implication thrown onto me when I highly respect those who can practice a religion? Sure, at its core an atheist is just someone who does not practice a religion, but we cannot deny the stereotypes associated with the term. Is it my right to not associate myself with that label? Is my character not more accurately portrayed if I just say, “No, I don’t belong to a religion and here’s why…?”

I often see the same logic used in regards to the term ‘feminist’, and it’s an argument I support. Sure, at its most basic a feminist is someone who wants equal rights for women to men. But does this term hold a monopoly over the fundamental belief that people should be equal regardless of who they are? Even the most hardcore of feminists can see that people are sometimes wary of tagging the label onto themselves despite them being believers of its core tenant. People aren’t (usually) afraid because they hate women and want them to suffer, but they don’t want to associate themselves with the radicals of the movement that make people question it, which is only fair. You can’t say that the radicals of the movement aren’t legitimate parts of the movement; all it takes to be a feminist is to be a proponent of women’s rights. That label is as much their right to claim as it is yours. To pin a word onto a person who doesn’t want that word pinned onto them is simply not fair to them. In the end we’re all fighting the same fight, so does it matter that we all use the same word?

The only type of label that I feel comes close to accurately describing who people are on a deeper and more accurate level are philosophical ones. If I say that I’m an absurdist, then that gives you an idea of my basic outlook on life. There’s a school of thought that one can read into and get a fairly refined idea of how I feel about existence, even though that still is a small subset of my thought process and personality.

In the end I feel that life is less complicated when you decide to not constrict yourself to a set of words to describe who you are. If I tell someone that I’m asexual, that might tell them how I am in certain situations, but my experiences are not the same as all, or perhaps even most asexuals. I can tell you that I’m a Democrat or Republican, but are all of my beliefs completely partisan to the agenda named at the conventions? In the end I believe it’s only right to allow people to define themselves for the unique individuals that they are. You’re not just what you’re born as or what group you associate yourself with. You are you, and you deserve to have people understand you on a deeper level than just the simple catch-all terms that describes millions of others.