Throughout the 5 minute video we didn’t see faces or even bodies. We saw movements; we would see little glimpses of people. But we could hear their entire conversation.  They spoke about family, jobs, education, fears, and relationships. They spoke about the type of bias they have been subjected to and the kinds of fears that were infiltrating our society and their lives. And they shared a meal in this darkness.

When the lights went on at the end of the video they saw each other. They had all made assumptions about each other as they spoke and those assumptions were blown out of the water. The politician who was tattooed and pierced surprised the business executive with the long hair. None looked as they expected. All those stereotypes were wrong.

“Labels are for soda cans, not people.”

That was all we saw on the screen at the end of the video. Powerful statement and one that I hadn’t really given thought to before.  Labels are a way to describe someone based upon the one item of importance given and they usually aren’t nice But since I saw this it has become much more powerful for me. Who am I giving labels to and why? What labels are given to me and why? How do I stop giving labels to people?

Labels usually describe something you can see, or know by behavior that then becomes all of you. I remember when I was heading to my first writing retreat in Italy and my biggest issue was whether I should tell people I was divorced, twice. That is a heavy burden that weighs on me and a label that I used myself to describe me. Why? Why should it matter to anyone what has gone on in my life before now? Nobody knows what went on in either of my marriages or who I was during those to judge, yet by giving myself that label I created that judgement and made it matter.  I actually don’t use that label much anymore as I have realized that I am a different person than I was then and that was just part of my story. If someone wants to judge me on it then they will, why judge myself!

Through this political season and now with the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, we have seen so many labels pop up, and people are just mean spirited about it. Recently I was reading something that someone wrote and they characterized anyone not happy with this election result as a “snowflake.” I had seen this a lot over the last few weeks but this was done so meanly and I was just done. So I wrote a comment and shared that I am so sick and offended of being labeled a snowflake because I am concerned with where this new administration will go. That opened up a firestorm of responses calling me a Liberal (as if that is bad) and a sore loser. I simply responded that I am neither, but done with my opinion being used as a way to be mean versus just accepted as what it is, an opinion. And perhaps listened to a little to help others think about things differently, which is what I try to do when I read or hear differing opinions.

I am not perfect but I am aware.  It goes back to my niece Stephanie’s question to me many years ago, “Why do people see my down syndrome before they see me?”  A label that describes a condition versus who she is and what she stands for.  Reminding me that labels are not for people. Using a label gives you only a snippet into that person, usually is something that is feared or despised and is never helpful in uniting people or including people.

To unite this fractured country and world we will need to constantly remind ourselves that we are people first.

Labels are for soda cans not for people.

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