Labels – Helpful? Hinderance?

imageI’m reading a really interesting book at the moment called Neurotribes by Steven Silberman (it was on my book list blog a little while ago). What is fascinating is the way he traces the identification of the autistic spectrum through the last 100 or so years. It’s startling that what people often talk about as an epidemic of some kind of disorder has had many labels, descriptions and suggested reasons for occurring. Sometimes the history behind the science of the medical model opens up the understanding of the mind-set underpinning the label in shocking detail. Tied in with the desire to understand autism were ideas about social engineering (also called eugenics), suggestions that the human race could only be improved if the strongest and fittest were the producers of children and what to do about people who experience the world differently. Of course there is also the assumption that research ‘must’ find a cure.

Along the way parents were told they were to blame. Either through faulty genes, bad or cold parenting or for not following the ‘cures’ handed out by medical (and sometimes faith) doctors. All each family wanted was a way to help their child or children. Somehow overt time the labels also became the enablers for help. Not to accept one for your child meant that medical coverage and other ancillary care became an issue of payment first. If this sounds at all familiar it is. Many aspects of our needs are only supported when we accept the label that has been given by the holders of the resources. For example, I’m thinking about the pain relief tablets I have for an emergency in my first aid tin. There are different kinds saying they relieve all sorts of different pains so long as I can identify with that particular pain. So is it period pain? A headache? Toothache? Joint pain? Or do I need a placebo because my pain is psychosomatic? Would some chocolate meet my needs better?

I’m not being dismissive of either autism or pain here. I’m trying to understand if giving something a label actually helps or hinders. Sometimes, I’m sure, it is a restriction. If I tell people I am a psychic certain ones will draw back imagining that I’m going to read their minds instantly. Some will believe I’m in league with the Devil. Some will be fascinated but a bit scared. Some will be delighted to get a chance to ask questions. The label psychic can be both helpful and a drawback. So what about the more important labels in our life? I am female and along with that go all sorts of assumptions about my abilities (or lack of them). I’m also a Mum and that has a whole load of labels hiding assumptions about my responsibilities towards and for my child. I’m a business woman too. There have certainly been some wonderfully off target assumptions about women in business in my lifetime.

Where do all the labels lead? We have managed to categorise ourselves in to ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, ‘us’ and them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘undeserving’. It’s a way to say I can have more of this than you. Or I am better than you. Or the world has to run my way because your way is wrong. Living becomes fraught with accepting or removing labels. Our time, energy and billions of pounds in resources goes into reinforcing the differences. It’s like a refusal to accommodate the wide spectrum of being human. When I come up against a world organised in ways that don’t fit me I usually ask ‘who says it has to be this way’? Sometimes I’m brave enough to reject the label I’ve been given. Occasionally I am strong enough to live my life in the way I choose to. As a parent involved in building forward for the next seven generations I hope my example can encourage others to think about labels. To ask questions about why we value some traits over others. And why we forget to support each other as a global community. There is no difference between any of us. We are human beings first and foremost.

Take a moment to consider what labels you have given yourself or accepted. Was it by your own choice? Or was it because someone told that’s who you are or what the issue is? Do you ever step outside the labels and recognise all of your abilities? Does your world give you the opportunity to be your authentic self? Stepping outside the labels is a powerful tool for change.

Day 197 of my blogging challenge.

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