Labels, labels, labels, we love to label things, I guess it is part of our human nature, the way we try to understand the world and communicate with our limited language. They help us explain people or groups of people, but when they are used to put a negative limiting label on to a person, especially when its a child, I just feel frustrated and annoyed.
I have been trying to work out why they frustrate me, what is it about labels that make me want to scream and run.
I think this frustration has grown in me since my oldest son was little. I started to hear people talk about each others kids, labelling them, naughty or lazy or stupid or violent (I know, tell me about it!!). The frustration grew more as I became a cub leader and heard other leaders refer to particular kids, saying "Oh he is the naughty one!"
So in the last few weeks after hearing again a label directed at a child I began to do some soul searching to why this makes me so mad.
Here are my conclusions:
Labels are so limited. They pick one attribute of a person and amplify it. They describe a person and they become like the bits and bods drawer that everyone has at home. That drawer everyone knows that is labelled the junk drawer. 'Junk' is so limited in its description, when you open the draw and spend the time to sort through it, its amazing the little treasures you find inside. Suddenly the 'junk' drawer is more than just 'junk'. Isn't this like kids, spend some quality time with the naughty child, talk to them, find something interesting to do with them and suddenly you find they are an amazing kid... We used to have a little lad in the creche at our church, who's capacity for trouble was immense, one week he made a Houdini style escape out of his high chair, out of the door and down the stairs before we could blink, but I discovered if you sat and read book after book with him and he was captivated and sat very still.
Labels dehumanise, a label turns a normal complicated interesting person, who has passions and dreams, into someone that can be dismissed and ignored because they are a lesser person.
Labels make us lazy, they give us an excuse not to find out more about a child or person. "Oh that kid is just lazy!", immediately no more time is needed to assess the child or understand him. May be that child is not lazy, may be what appears to be laziness is actually a child that has never had anyone take an interest in him, spent any time learning what would inspire him? I have friends with artist children, who love to day dream and live in an imaginary world, which if given time is transformed from their minds into beautiful drawings, but day dreaming and lazy look similar if you have no time for that child.
Labels mean we can catalog children to process them. Bright kids in one class, stupid kids in another, this makes it so much easier for us to work with big groups of kids, but what does this do to the children involved? I know how it made me feel as a kid...sad :(
I understand labels are needed, because we are human, but can I just beg you that next time you hear a child labelled you will crouch down next to that child and smile. Take time, stop and consider that this little bundle of human weakness could have undiscovered awesomeness.