McBrayer: Labeling people marginalizes us
‘If you label me, you negate all the things I could possibly be.” Correctly or in error, this quote is attributed to Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard. Yes, the human tendency is to quickly identify and classify people; to assign them to a taxonomy chart; determine where others “belong,” based on their opinions, the place of their birth, the religion to which they are an adherent or some other pigeon-holing category.
Indeed, it is negating, for once we assign people a proper place — usually outside of our tribe — we don’t have to know, engage, or respect them. We don’t have to recognize that people are incredibly complicated and rarely fall into neat, precise, coherent categories. Life is too messy — and people too multifaceted — for that.
Writing and speaking publicly over the years, I have often experienced this kind of labeling firsthand. A person reads one blog post of mine, comes across a single opinion I shared, or hears me speak for a total of 15 minutes, and suddenly he or she knows everything about me.
I regularly critique the church, so I am bitter, angry, and interested only in tearing things down; but because I stay in the church, I am complicit in propping up its patriarchy and abuses — or so I have been told. I will join with others of different faiths for the common good (and those with no faith at all), so I have been judged “unfaithful to Christ;” and because I hold resolutely to my personal faith in Jesus, “I am close-minded.”
I believe all persons are made in the image of God, a “pro-life” position. Thus, I am a backward fundamentalist; but because I believe this principle extends beyond a person’s birth — to our enemies, to immigrants, the sick, and those on death row — I am a “social justice warrior who disregards the rule of law.”
Because I believe that systematic bigotry is ever-present, I “am a failure in the eyes of my European ancestors,” and because I support law enforcement, I am pro-tyranny. Because I do not wrap myself in my country’s flag, I am guilty of treason (and should be “sent to Guantanamo Bay” one animated critic told me); and because I reject the power-obsessed, dualism of our politics, I am the “reason nothing changes.”
Because my books are available for purchase, I am a filthy capitalist; and because I believe we should help the poor until it hurts, I am a vile socialist. Because I love the Bible, I am not a serious intellectual thinker; because I embrace the truthfulness of science, I have abandoned my faith.
I could go on ad nauseam, but I feel that is the point: It’s a never-ending sickness. Until we can do unto others as we would have done unto us, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves — which means granting the grace, understanding, and patience we all desire — then the labeling, judging and negating will continue.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger pastor and author of multiple books. Visit his website at ronniemcbrayer.org.