If You Like It Put A Label On It

I want to have a serious conversation about the human tendency to size each other up, to try and figure each other out, and to put each other in molds as a way of understanding and relating to each other.  I want to have a serious conversation because it’s a very serious issue.

I do not want to have a conversation about the semantics of this conversation.  I posted an introduction to this topic on Facebook late last week, and the conversation ended up being quibbles over semantics, which vary greatly depending on where an individual is coming from.  I want to be clear: sizing people up, trying to figure people out, and trying to fit people into molds as a way of understanding and relating to them are all synonymous in my experience.  Others may call it labeling or categorizing or something else entirely, but I can assure you, we’re talking about the same thing.  Also, throughout this post, I will use a number of illustrations (possibly hypothetical, possibly not) to help in explaining my point.  In these illustrations, I will clarify my opinions on things, but I’m not interested in having a conversation about my opinions at this time, either.

I want to have a conversation about the problems with sizing people up, trying to figure people out, and putting people into molds as a means of understanding and relating to each other.

First of all, it cannot be done, and you’re kidding yourself if you think it can be.  I am not an assessment that you can categorize by asking a few questions, I am not a mathematical equation that you can solve by following a formula, and I’m not a puzzle piece that you should can search for a place where I fit.  No person is any of these things.  We are all unique individuals, and try as we might, we will never be 100% like anyone else.  By nature, we cannot be categorized, unless we are all a category unto ourselves.

I often describe myself as a libertarian (small “l”) because our nation was founded on small (or limited) government principles, and for that reason, I think small (or limited) government is worth defending.  Unlike many people in the Libertarian party, I am not interested in small (or limited) government because I think people are basically good or are capable of making good decisions for themselves.  From a Biblical and historical perspective, I know that is not the case, and so I do not believe making decisions entirely in favor of small (or limited) government is wise or practical, and I have a wide range of opinion on policy ranging from very liberal to very conservative.

Secondly, using methods of assessment, formula, and mold to try to know someone is extremely restrictive and reductive to that person.  These methods say, “This is where you best fit, so you must go here,” even when it’s not a perfect fit. And let’s face it, there is no perfect fit.   And often those who want to make others fit into certain categories do not take into account growth and change.

According to every assessment, I am an introvert.  I test this way because I am deeply introspective, and value time alone to process circumstances and how I feel about them.  Otherwise, I display the characteristics of an extrovert.  I’m not an outgoing person, but having grown up with seven siblings, I enjoy having people around.  I love getting to know people and building deep relationships with them, but I have no problems with small talk, either.  Regardless of any assessment, I’m not entirely introverted, and I’m not entirely extroverted.  I’m just an introspective people person.

Thirdly, it might prevent you from knowing some really great people because either they identify with categories you don’t like or you’ve placed them in categories you don’t like.  I can’t imagine only getting to know people who prescribe to the same thinking I do. (Not that such a person exists, but you know).  As humans, we need people different from us to help us grow and mature.

I have friends who believe that President Obama needs to take a stronger stance on foreign policy; I personally agree with the President when he says, “Just because you have the best hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail.” We’re all still friends.  I have friends who support same sex marriage; I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.  We’re (mostly) all still friends. I have friends who are really outgoing, friends who are really shy, friends who are in between, like me, but not. I have friends who put people into categories and find methods of categorization helpful; I know better (hahaha).  We’re still friends. (Might not be after this post, but…) I think variety is the spice of life, and that’s true when it comes to my friendships as well.

You might read this blog (or what I post on FB and Twitter) or have a few conversations with me and come away thinking you know me and what I stand for if you use formulaic methods to assess me.  I’ve had people take issue with my stance on homosexuality, with my stance on sexual abuse in the Church, with my stance on people who work minimum wage jobs, with my not wanting to marry a pastor (which is preference, not even a stance).  People either scan my posts and misunderstand what I’m saying (and often push the conversation in a different direction than it should go), or they do understand but they don’t like it and so they have to make me into something I’m not in order to disagree with me. (HERETIC!!! Ha).

No offense, but you don’t know me.  You know things about me, and maybe that makes you feel comfortable sizing me up or figuring me out or putting me into a mold or labeling me or categorizing me or whatever term for this laziness you can come up with.

You shouldn’t.  It won’t work on me because I don’t fit perfectly into any category.  Even if I align pretty closely with certain categories now, doesn’t mean I can’t change (or haven’t changed for that matter).  And it’s going to keep you from really knowing me, because while I have friends with diverse ideas and opinions, I’m not interested in anyone’s assessment of who I am and what I stand for.



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5 thoughts on “If You Like It Put A Label On It

  1. BlondeRJ says:

    Calling our nice little discussion a “quibble,” eh?
    WELL! 😛
    Let’s discuss the semantics of the word quibble… 😉

    • Lydia Thomas says:

      (So sorry, am only just now seeing this comment. I wonder why I didn’t get a notification. Ah well.)

      I felt like our discussion/quibble (quibbling discussion? haha) was actually a good case-in-point for this post: we all bring assumptions to the table in our conversations with people that might be best left at the door.

      To be clear, I felt that the discussion about what it meant to figure people out (meant something different to both of us, and you thought my meaning was closer to labeling, although I consider them to be the same) was slightly unproductive. I wanted to be clear about the meanings I bring to this topic, so we can actually talk about the effects of getting to know people through categorization especially on the people we’re trying to get to know. 🙂 I didn’t want to lose the overall discussion because I wasn’t being clear what I meant.

      I did think you made an interesting point that using tools to categorize people is a viable way to get to know them. I obviously disagree for reasons listed in the post :P, but that part of the conversation was productive because it addressed the topic. 😉

      I’ve had an opportunity to explain myself more clearly, and I’d certainly be interested in hearing more from you about YOUR point of view.

      You mentioned (on FB) that “some of us are not very discerning, and so ‘figuring someone out’ on a basic level is very helpful in a friendship and going forward trusting someone” and that certain tools help you do that. What tools help you with discerning whether or not to become friends with or trust someone? How do they help you in that process? What categorizations might keep you from being friends with or trusting someone? You mention that “‘figuring someone out’ on a basic level is helpful”: what is basic? At what point does someone become a friend (for you) as opposed to someone being evaluated for friendship?

      Would really like to hear!

      • Lydia Thomas says:

        In the interest of honesty, I’ve recently gotten myself into trouble with categorizing. Rather than talk about my personal issues specifically, I addressed a category of people generally, and ended up really hurting someone I care about in the process. It was pure laziness on my part.

  2. Beth Caplin says:

    I have a hard time believing we can *really* know anyone anyway…

    • Lydia Thomas says:

      True. It’s more of a process of knowing them better and better, but never fully knowing them. God is the only one who fully knows us, I think. Still, I’d rather go through the process of knowing someone more and more instead of just assuming I know them by trying to categorize them, if that makes any sense.

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