Label on label

Harry Drabik

I was recently accused of making fun of people for carefully checking labels. “Why belittle a person for that?” A correction was needed; “It was the behavior not the person I questioned.” The challenger stayed on the attack “You tried to make reading a label look stupid.” Innocent of the accusation, I countered. “Reading a label is fine. Oblivious aisle blocking was my objection. Actually,” I said with a premeditated smile, “I was fascinated by the reader’s intensity. One can’t be too careful about determining what amount of uncertified pea consumption might prove lethal.” The challenging party saw through my smiling ruse; “You’re mocking and making fun!” But there I was put suddenly back on firm footing. “Trust me; any meaning seen in devoting one’s time and valuable life energy to search out potentially fatal qualities in unknown peas says what it says with no help from me. Res ipsa loquitor,” I added because a dash of Latin it dresses up a no-win argument, and also because the “thing does speak for itself.”

Ah, but it is so easy to have people find or take offense. I see the blossoming of social venial sin as damned annoying as the religious bloom of similar nature. Also annoying, to me anyway, is the way reading-in and concluding has replaced the commoner sense of asking what something means or what the intent was. Of course one feels more important and justified by confronting with a conclusion in your bazooka, but that then puts people in attack frames rather than inquiry models. But, asking or having to ask is belittling and puts one in an inferior position doesn’t it? Or does it? Perhaps it is a personal failing on my part, but I find people who address others with their conclusions and decisions preset and minus the possible benefits of inquiry to be not just annoying in self-centeredness but often dangerous with the attitude their whatever conclusion is true and truth for all. How commonly godly of them to act so, and how rarely repentant they are about donning water walking god shoes.

We are often warned not to label people (labeling things is generally OK), but I find little fault with a convenient practice so long as the practitioner is aware of what they’re doing and grasps the limits of a label. To make things simpler people use labels to help identify and organize. Not a thing wrong with that, but there can be with misuse or overuse of labeling. We often label (a form of discriminating) to sort and evaluate. Do we want a medical treatment with a known record or a new experimental one? An individual then decides which will wear the label of better for them. The labeling we each do is useful to us. But labeling becomes a pain when assuming it applies to others. No amount of “good for you” promotion will get me to like the taste of a food I don’t like. Thank you for the offer, but I’ll let you have all the pickled worms or calf placenta you desire. Take it, please.

Making sport with questionable behaviors and not harking to the label demands or errors of others is a part of the being portion of human. As clever monkeys we are driven to play with the physical and intellectual objects in our environment. We will play with labels and labeling, both of which should not be a substitute for exam and questioning. I have to wonder if I’m making fun of people or questioning a bad habit when I balk at use and users of sprawling generalities. Good gosh there are some Doozies out there. Remember the last time an earnest speaker tried to convince you with “We all believe in the same god.” If the goal is silly inaccuracy the statement is pure perfect. There is little useful similarity in holding on high a standard of forgiveness and faith against a standard of obedience and submission. These are not the same in themselves and not the same in outcome, either. Belief in a deity forgiving of transgression is hardly equal to a deity requiring active punishment. The foundational underpinning of a faith, belief, system, society, etc. is of consequence to how people are able to go about their lives. A system that sees marital infidelity as a private moral issue is clearly not identical to a system that calls the same behavior a crime deserving of swift consequences. Labeling, reading labels, and interpreting the differences is a consequential human behavior. For the sake of going along or being liked by those around us we might silently acquiesce rather than make a fuss. But the more we agreeably go along with questionable notions the deeper into quag we get. Making a fuss can be more use to society than going home saying “I should have said something.” Say something. So what if you later regret it or change your view? Regretting expression has a better chance of being part of something useful to society than is regretting our silences. If your view is considered and serious I think there is an obligation to express it. That obligation applies, too, for challenging things you find questionable. The trick is to keep questionable from turning into objectionable and letting loose a batch of venial transgressions.

It’s funny how things work. I was recently asked about pronouns applied to gender categories. My first thought was “Who cares?” If an individual is decided on gender options there’s nothing I can do, is there? Not my problem, not my business. It can begin to become my business when someone says I have to use this or that language regarding them. To me what they want is wrong and I won’t accept it. I am not responsible for their wellbeing or happiness by having to use words or expressions beyond the ordinary. If it were so then I’d make them responsible for my happiness saying they needed to go silently and swiftly away and not disturb my quark.