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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

day 16: evolution, labels and what's behind the cover

As it became clear after a few blog posts, I had kind of pigeon-holed myself by declaring a pretty specific theme to write about on a day to day basis. 365 days of one lesson was destined, not for failure, but eventual evolution. So far I've learned a lot from this, including that I really love writing and I enjoy sharing lessons learned, but some times a lesson learned isn't about juxtaposing the good with the bad, it's simply adding new information to your repertoire. That's why I'm shifting course a little with today's post. If you liked reading along before, it's really not going to change that much, just become more holistic. From now on this blog represents lessons learned. Today I'm savouring progress. Aaaand, here we go:

   Everyday we're faced with labels, labels, labels. Some embrace a label, some rebel against them only to define a new label with which to combat. Few want to be labelled, but everyone uses labels to understand the world around us. We label knowledge like "trivial, practical, archaic", we label moods like "sad, happy, goofy, thoughtful", we label music, jobs, people, we label people, we label people.

   It makes sense in a way; labels help us define moments and communicate ideas. How could you describe things to people without them? "It's kind of pop/rock with a bit of jazz". The fact is, labels, like stereotypes, couldn't exist without some basis in reality. If they didn't work in communicating then they wouldn't be in use. Labels give us control of our surroundings. They let us work in a system of clear boundaries and of predictable outcomes. Labels are a quick reference guide, a way to delineate small packets of information from often, a single word. 

   Lazy. That man is lazy. What do you picture? Do you picture a man on a couch? Lazy doesn't have the word couch in it, but there he is, just sitting. A TV? Interesting. He's slouching, isn't he? Not sitting up straight, not dignified, he can't be bothered to be dignified. Unkempt maybe? I bet you think he's poor. Not a lot of money, right? Average living room, average life. His wife finds him irritable. Oh, he has a wife? And she nags, right? She wants him to finish fixing the cupboards. He said he'd do it a year ago. He bought the wood 6 months ago. He said in the summer maybe, he'd find some time.

   My mind makes this journey, and I think it must be shared. Maybe not detail for detail, but we all know what comes to mind when we use the word 'lazy' to describe a person (and I bet if I didn't say 'man' most of us would go there anyway). Let me ask you something about this man. Does he love his kids? Was his mother ever there for him? Did he ever love someone with wild abandon? Does he play drums? Does he make people laugh? Did he cry when his dog died?

   Lazy gave us an impression, but there was little humanity in that impression, just behaviours. Asking questions about him as a human being complicates the image. Makes it hard to define, harder to hold on to. We could so easily compartmentalize him before, understand him, dismiss him. We liked it. We love breaking people down to a few words that fit. It gives a sense of simplicity, of control of the chaos. And it's necessary. Accepting things on a case by case basis, truly taking life, the universe and everything for its individual worth is impossible. There isn't the time in the day. But it's good to be reminded once in a while that some times "sad" means a thousand different things, and you won't always be able to relate. Some times a 'good person' is a million different people and you can't really know what to expect. 

   If and when you can, treat the individual like an individual. Don't dismiss them with a few easily palatable adjectives. Ask them what makes them cry. As them what makes them ecstatic. Ask them what makes them furious. Introduce yourself to their humanity and learn what it really means to share the planet with people like you. People nothing like you. People just like you.

   I wrote this song a couple years ago after being fed up with labels. It's continuously relevant to me. Enjoy.


written by James Everett

Close my lips, and bite my tongue
A tale of my design's begun
But you have never known my heart, have you?

You flash a smile, wink an eye,
Nudge my side as she walks by
But you don't see her with my eyes, do you?

Do you? I don't think that you do…

It's not the world I see
Not the man I choose to be
And if you took the time, you still couldn't define - a single thing
Cause you have not been listening.

You know my age and know my state
Upon it your assessment's fate
Waiting to bestow your rate upon me

The line is drawn, the chord is struck
And in this cage you'd have me stuck
You've only built around your thoughts and so,

And so, you'll never really know it's,

Not the world I see
Not the man I choose to be
And if you took the time, you still couldn't define - a single thing
Cause you have not been listening.

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