My husband has the gift of being able to quickly and accurately see the essence of a person. He is an engineer in his categorical thinking and that’s true even when he deals with people. It’s especially helpful for him in his sales position. Right away he understands a person’s motivations and interests and then he can get right to the heart of their problem and needs.
I, too, can see how labels can be helpful. If you share some common characteristics with others, you can self-identify with a group and find support. Like I do with unschoolers and Attachment Parents and Vegetarians. Also, services can be offered to a group of people for faster and for less money to groups with common characteristics.
Of course, labels have their drawbacks too.
A friend of mine recently made a comment that really stuck with me. She was talking about her experience in being labelled by others. She said, “I don’t usually think about (my label). I just walk around, living my life and in my daily life, (my label) doesn’t define me.” I thought, how true! Most of us fit into many labels but we don’t make decisions about our lives based on whether or not our choices fit with the perceptions behind those labels. We just make decisions based on who we are and what works for us.
I think labels cause damage when the people being labelled have to fight for control over the perception of their label. I am blessed with some really lovely people in my life, some of whom happen to be gay and lesbian. Every once in a while, there will be a media spotlight on GLBT issues and watching some reactions from the public makes me think how hurtful this label can be when it’s used by people to judge in ignorant or hateful ways. The GLBT community has worked steadily to remove the stigma and hopefully one day it will be a non-issue for people, just a descriptor word instead of the heavy label it can still be today in Canada.
I think that labels can be most hurtful and harmful when the people being labelled are vulnerable and impressionable. They are powerless to influence the perception of their label and may even be conditioned to believe they embody the negative perceptions of their label. Some parents are wonderful advocates for their children who are labeled, changing society’s perceptions and understandings. Other parents fight the labelling process altogether, believing the downsides of the label are more harmful than the potential benefits.
As a public school teacher, I remember a strong mother who fought hard to protect her son from being labelled. Her child was judged to be ADHD from the start of his school career. By the time he reached me in his primary school years, there was a lot of pressure on his parents from staff and admin to get him tested, give him the official ADHD label, get him meds, and enroll him in special programming at school. His mother FOUGHT the official labelling process, believing her son would be able to excel beyond our expectations, if he were given enough time to mature and the opportunity to learn how to manage himself. I know that was a difficult decision for her and perhaps not the right decision for every family, but I sure learned a lot from her example. That year, I trusted her, and she trusted him, and I had my first foray into true self-directed learning, unschooling style. The results of his growth changed me. He is an amazing kid, full of heart, ideas, and passion, but with a different set of parents, I wonder how things might have worked out for him? His mom trusted the core of who he was more than she trusted the system he was in. Would he have blossomed with the label following him everywhere and special programming that didn’t understand his mom’s larger vision of who he could become? She was motivated by love and trust for him and she understood the power of a label. In his situation, I think his mom made the right call.
Parenting is a challenge and no one understands this more than parents with children who are “labelled” at a young age. A label on a child is essentially a label the parent carries too; for better or for worse. So to all of the moms and dads of labelled children who have found We Learn Naturally, welcome. We know you are here because you have a larger vision of who your child could be. We are all bigger than our labels. This organization was created with your kids in mind.