A warning about the use of labels on people

We are becoming more selective and conscious about what we ingest and purchase. Therefore, the accuracy and descriptiveness of labels become more important. A healthier lifestyle, environmental concerns, and social responsibility are a few reasons we immediately search for labels once a product has caught our attention.

No matter how attractive the product is, just one ingredient, one raw material, or even the product’s origin is enough for the consumer to disregard an otherwise appealing product. This use of labeling is for both the benefit of the individual and the community. This is, however, where the benefits of labels stop.

In an age of overwhelming access to information, where everyone wants to share their knowledge about anything, we are naturally becoming more skeptical of what we read, hear, and see. Everyone can’t be right, so who is telling the truth? There is usually some truth on all sides if we can all listen.

Humans by nature discern the goodness, safety, health, or value of things. We do this instinctual. From an evolutionary standpoint, a slip in judgment could have been a matter of life or death. The problem is, too often we make one-sided judgments of people and therein lies the danger of labels.

Opposing views, as displayed in the political arena, are usually not resolved through dialogue and an inquisitive process to further understanding. Rather, differing viewpoints are labeled in ways that are dismissive and demeaning. When the character of a person or group is solely characterized in a manner that diminishes their worth and tarnishes their reputation, a democratic process of open dialogue between two or more human beings cannot take place.

Bullying results. On a larger scale dictatorship under an umbrella of fear and aggression results. Such a manner of conduct breeds animosity and divisiveness.

The one who wins at dehumanizing and defeating his neighbor by brute force rises to the top. This a dangerous political method. It systemically condones uncivilized behavior, allowing it to become the accepted way of dealing with differences. We are seeing the damage this divisive behavior brings to our diverse communities.

Once labeled, a person is usually reduced to several unflattering stereotypes associated with the label. Once dehumanized that person is perceived as less than human. Their needs, their voice, and their value are therefore diminished. They become oppressed.

From this stage, it doesn’t take long for the marked person or group to be susceptible to discrimination, mockery, neglect, and abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional). And in extreme cases significant harm and death can result. This is the case when precursors to acts of genocide are examined.

Continue reading labels on products sitting on store shelves and hanging on racks of retail stores. They provide an accurate description of a product.  A label on a bag of organic apples grown from a local farm helps the consumer determine value and worth.

Most labels used to describe a person or group, however, are not completely accurate and usually decrease the value and worth of someone. This can become a slippery slope where oppression and injustice arises. Refrain from using labels on people and instead seek to understand. Use great caution before consuming a demeaning and dehumanizing label placed on a person. Take the time to look into what is not on the label.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

2 thoughts on “A warning about the use of labels on people”

  1. “From this stage, it doesn’t take long for the marked person or group to be susceptible to discrimination, mockery, neglect, and abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional). ” Thank you for articulating so brilliantly what has most needed saying Jean Pierre. Sharing forward with gratitude!

  2. Absolutely agree. It’s a natural part of the cognitive economy process to group and categorise things, but labelling people, especially children, can be dangerous and often creates self-fulfilling prophesies. See what happens to a child’s behaviour next time she/he is labelled at ‘the naughty one’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.