Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tearing Off Our Labels


If you've been reading my reflections for awhile now, perhaps you have already heard me speak about labeling  and how I think labels can more than often get in the way. This is another such article.

It seems that throughout our lives we pick up labels, either intentionally or unintentionally that describe ourselves. The first comes moments after we have arrived in this world and our parents call us by our forename for the first time. And then the snowball effect begins.

Think of the labels that you may have acquired or intentionally applied to yourself throughout your life:

  • weak/wimp
  • skinny/fat
  • sporty/awkward
  • introvert/extrovert
  • friendly/aloof
  • part of the "in" crowd/left out
This list only expands as we continue on in life:

  • rich/poor
  • liberal/conservative
  • good parent/bad parent
  • crazy/unique
The list could go on and on.  What I am saying in this piece of writing is that we become more free as we finally begin to learn to strip away the labels and just be ourselves, no label needed.

Sometimes we attach labels to ourselves because we are afraid of dealing with our core personal issues, and they are a pleasant distraction.  And I admit, sometimes labels serve their purpose for either a specific time, or even permanently. For instance, it's much easier to point at a policeman or woman and say "Look, there's a policeman/woman," instead of "Look, there's someone hired by the region to protect citizens and enforce law!"

But in general, I believe stripping off labels can be extremely freeing. 

To use a personal example:

I am Mark Andrew Alward. I am 33 years old. I was a fundamentalist evangelical Christian for 21 years. I once was a bartender and server. I was a Progressive Conservative voter. I was a Liberal voter. I am now an NDP voter and serve on my local riding executive as LGBTQ Representative. I am a writer. I am founder of the "It's My Turn" movement which works to reduce the stigma surrounding those of us who live with mental illness. Heck, there's another label. I am mentally ill. I am sometimes kind and sometimes inconsiderate.

Now let's start removing those labels.

I am Mark Andrew Alward. I am 33 years old. I was a fundamentalist evangelical Christian for 21 years. I once was a bartender and server. I was a Progressive Conservative voter. I was a Liberal voter. I am now an NDP voter and serve on my local riding executive as LGBTQ Representative.

Let's continue...

I am Mark Andrew Alward. I am 33 years old.

And one more step...

I am.

Not even our names completely represent what and who we are.  They're just labels that have been given to us or that we have chosen.  I feel like I'm in good company in this regard.  Perhaps you are familiar with the story in the Jewish Scriptures which shares an account of Moses going to the mountains and seeing God in the form of a burning bush. God tells Moses to lead his people, the Israelites out of bondage to the Egyptians, and Moses replies: "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you', and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?’ And then listen to the Divine's response: "God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’" Even more interesting, this can also be translated, "I will be what I will be," as if the Divine, like all of us, is constantly making him/herself what she wants herself to be and refuses to be labeled because none will do.

Isn't this freeing? Phew, I feel rest in my very soul as I listen to those words.

It's OK if you and I don't fit into a category that someone else may place onto us, it really does not matter.

Now, some people may find this rather frightful, not having something to hold onto. I'll share my personal opinion on this, and what gives my life meaning. 

I personally believe in a Divine reality (though I hesitate to call her/him God, because many people automatically think you're talking about a "big man in the sky.") But I believe in a Divine reality, and that She is all about love. Period. When we sift everything down, I believe life is all about love; learning how to both give it and receive it. So I prefer to call myself "the Beloved." I do not believe in a Big Man In The Sky or the God of my forebears, but I do believe that as I live out my days, I am Loved.  

Love to you wherever you are on your journey today.