I wanted to re-post this February 18th blog since it seems that this topic of how we use labels to describe people has become such a prominent practice used today, sometimes with detrimental societal consequences. There are so many terms and labels used to differentiate one person from another or one group of people from another, and these objective labels are used millions of times each day all over the world. Examples: male, female, man, woman, girl, boy, straight, gay, lesbian, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Caucasian, Latino, Asian, Afro-American, American, Canadian, Syrian, French, German, Italian, President, Senator, CEO, Manager, Assistant Manager, short, tall, skinny, fat, obese, in-shape, alcoholic, addict, recovering alcoholic, sane, insane, bi-polar, autistic, normal, abnormal … you get the idea. The list could take up many pages. Suffice it to say we have so many of these terms to differentiate one person from another, some are labels we accept in common dialogue but some terms are disparaging and offensive. 

What surprises me when I think of this endless list of words we use to describe ourselves, is the general failure to identify our similarities such as kind, compassionate, understanding, funny, practical, humble, hard-working, outgoing, positive -- and so many more. Often the seemingly endless terms of distinction unwittingly separate all of us from seeing ourselves as part of the human family and if all these linguistic means of describing people are used as often as they will be used on any given day, are we not in fact enforcing the countless ways to separate us from one another? We may in fact be objectifying ourselves so often that as a society, many have lost their way and have become blind to that which unifies us. Regretfully and often tragically, some people and groups use scornful and bigoted categorizations of others to try and boost their own identify as ‘greater’ or ‘better’ or ‘ordained' by some god as ‘superior’ compared to those they attempt to label.

The great American Poet, Walt Whitman, asserts this timbre of meaning best in his poem, I Sing the Body Electric, describing a slave at auction prior to the American Civil War. He refers to an auction he sadly observed before slaves were freed by Lincoln’s great Emancipation Proclamation.

Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.
In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!

These few words from Walt Whitman speak volumes. One of the great lessons I learned very early in my sobriety while detoxing in a hospital, was embracing a genuine sense of humility and human understanding of others. I no longer felt differentiated from anyone. It was quite a beginning epiphany for me that continues to grow within the longer I remain in my sobriety. I felt grounded and, all the things I had ever been or accomplished were not important anymore. I was discovering something else. Yes, I was around different ‘kinds’ of people who were in the hospital that could be described by one or more of those various objective labels mentioned at the outset of this posting. Yet, we all shared a common bond - addiction and alcohol issues that had caused so much agony and harm to many others and ourselves. This may sound peculiar to people that have not gone through a detoxification process, but, ironically, this is where I first discovered my true self and was able to see this certain key facet present in all of the individuals I shared this hospital ward with.

This unveiling of my true self continued for the next several days, weeks, months and now years and continues to this day. Previous outward accomplishments, awards, recognition, promotions, job titles -- those labels again -- that I had ever garnered during the course of my relatively ordinary life became insignificant and lacking real meaning. Before sobriety, I had let these external designations define who I was. I had become separated from that universal bond, that union with people and life and most especially, with myself. All of those labels and distinctions fell by the wayside. I am a person. I am a creation of God, the Universe or even simply the result of a magnificent evolution of atomic, physiological and biologic processes put in motion by the great ‘void’ or ‘beginning.’ Most importantly, I realized I am a part of this human race, with consciousness, the senses, awareness, feelings, emotions, identity, purpose, love and will.

So many of the challenges we face in the world today have to do with the objectification of people and attaching that same shackle upon ourselves. External accomplishments and the winning and losing that go on in our competitive world can be just fine. However, losing sight of the real, true measure of ourselves as people can only create havoc in life and dismantle our awareness. Using labels to identify others for consciousness sake and communication, can be okay, as long as they are not used in harmful ways that end up offending or injuring others.

Obviously, labels are certainly going to persist in our world as a way of trying to communicate, but we should be cognizant that they do not interfere with our empathy and awareness of others. Using these objective ways of branding or categorizing people can harden our sensitivities to people and we easily become callous. The multiple forms of electronic media used today are adding to this growing sociological dilemma. Without being conscious of what we are doing, we can easily use these objective one-word classifications to reinforce dissociation and alienation. Just as an individual that is in the midst of their addiction or alcoholism is unable to see their true self or have love and empathy for others, so too can the way we think of others perilously influence our own life.

As individuals recovering from our addiction, let us please remember that we are so much more than an ‘addict’ or an ‘alcoholic,’ despite what others in this world wish to use to single us out. We are courageous people, who like so many others in this world, have lost our way on this journey of life, and need to reach out to others for caring, human warmth, and above all, help. What really defines us has to do with our daily thoughts and actions. Our individual identity becomes apparent when we bravely reach within to understand ourselves. Then we can heal, and forgive and finally help others. Quite simply put, how we treat ourselves will be how we treat others. Look beyond the appearances . . . until next time. 



12/03/2016 9:51pm

Wow -- this is so timely with all the anger and dissociation after the election . . . we all need to be tolerant and see our similarities not our differences. Thank you for writing this.


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