Labels and Life

“Crazy how labels make us feel the need to live up to them, huh?”

I wrote this in response to a comment on my last blog post. As I wrote it, I thought, There’s probably some deep life lesson in that.

Labels are funny things, actually. I went Black Friday shopping, so I recently looked at a lot of labels. Also products, but lots of labels. Funny how a higher price tag or prettier brand label makes a product look better.

I bought boots. I tried them on, inspected the seams and soles, tested the zippers… but the “originally $99” label convinced me of their quality more than my own assessment. Like stores don’t sell cheap stuff for outrageous prices or something.

None of the labels I saw were this pretty. The 21st century needs to step it up.

Back to the original comment: I think, There’s probably some deep life lesson in that fairly often. And then I try hard to ignore it. Because as soon as you figure out what that lesson is, you feel compelled to apply it. And applying deep life lessons is invariably uncomfortable and exhausting.

It’s also scary, though, because as soon as I decide to ignore a lesson, I remember that the people I like most are the ones who go through uncomfortable and exhausting and manage to put all those deep life lessons to work.

And I’m a people pleaser. Punishment? Straight-up cruelty? Dish it out. Disappointment? Disapproval? You might as well bury me alive; it kills me. So when I notice all the pleasing people apply those life lessons, the little people pleaser monster in me goes into a fevered mania.

We should apply life lessons? Great. Let’s apply them.

Let’s apply all of them.

Right now.

Some good advice that I manage not to follow almost always.

But once we’ve made a list of all the things we should say and do and be in order to please people, that list is overwhelming. And hard. And scary. And you have to do all of them, because once you’ve compiled a list, everything on it looks vital. You can’t say Value everyone is more or less important than Forgive people, or that Exercise comes before or after Eat healthy food.

We’re bad at one at a time, the people pleaser monster and I.

Never mind. Psh. Who needs life lessons?

So we don’t change.

But, y’know, one at a time can be good. And I can do one change. Not to please people or calm the monster down, but because…labels are powerful. They don’t just affect what we buy in stores. They affect the way we treat people. See, we like to slap labels onto ourselves and each other, and then, like me and my on-sale boots, we expect each other to live up to the price tags.

So today, it’s time to take the labels off. Time to stop seeing labels and start seeing people. Because price tags are simple: a number, a value, bam. Done. People? People are complex. People are messy and emotional and conflicted and diverse. People are beautiful. And you can’t label beautiful.