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I had a college professor who was fond of quoting this Eastern proverb, “The beginning of wisdom is to call a thing by its right name.” Must have said it every other class period.

Names and labels have a very prominent place in my circles.

There’s the Christian circles who will say, I’m Christian, not Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical not Baptist, Pre-millennial no amillenial, Calvinist not Arminian, Fundamental not liberal, Bible believing not Emergent, missional, relevant, hipster, local coffee not Starbucks.

There’s clinical circles where every client must have an official diagnosis if they are to receive any billable service. An Abuse diagnosis is different than a Dependence diagnosis and a Dependence diagnosis doesn’t go away, but you can achieve Sustained Full Remission. You can’t have both Schizophrenia Undifferentiated type and Schizophrenia Paranoid type, a Not Otherwise Specified  diagnosis is only good for six months, and you can’t sign a treatment plan with a Diagnosis Deferred. You need one credential to diagnose Alcohol Dependence and a completely different credential and educational background to diagnose Generalized Anxiety. When applying for disability benefits, you can’t have Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, you need Bipolar I or Bipolar II.

And then there’s the LGBTQQIAP2S community in which one might be Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, A-sexual, Pansexual or Two-Spirit. We might also throw in an extra A for Ally. We are united but separate and please don’t lump us all together or confuse my Letter with someone else’s. (And what about pomosexuality….unnhh…..)

I spend most of my conversation time in the above three circles. I haven’t even begun to dig into Racial labels, Socio-economical labels, Age labels, Education labels, Body-type, Eating values, Clothing style, vehicle of choice for commuting, city of origin or favorite sports team or whether or not you are a Hipster.

Labels, labels, labels. Ay, the headache…

The problem with labels is that they are exclusive. If you say you are one thing, you imply that you are not something else. And while it’s true that no one can(or should) identify as everything, I believe that everyone identifies as more than one thing, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Said another way, there are many different aspects of a person’s identity. Some aspects are more fixed, others are more fluid. Some we choose, others are thrust upon us. Your ethnic heritage is more fixed and your clothing style is highly fluid. You choose your eating values, your gender at birth is thrust upon you.

All the different parts of us are important, but not all important in the same way, and not all at the same time. Some bits of us impact the rest of us more than others and we may prioritize different parts of ourselves over the years.

So what’s the matter with labels?

Well, in the case of the Christians, when we label ourselves one way and everyone else another way, we create an isolating dynamic that separates the Christians from the rest of the world. Often this turns into an “Us vs Them” combative aggressive mentality.

For the record, dear Christian brother or sister, please do not refer to yourself as a “Believer,” because in doing so, you imply that you have beliefs and no one else has believes. That is incorrect. Everyone believes something and if you want any hope of dialogue with everyone, you must acknowledge the sincerity of their beliefs.

In the case of the clinical world, we throw diagnostic labels around much to carelessly and in doing so, we promote stigmatization. Diagnoses dehumanize a person. It’s no longer clients Bob and Larry but The Bipolar and The Schizophrenic. These labels are burdensome and problem oriented. People tend to fixate on their diagnoses and make that problem the central aspect of their identity. Or they use the fact that they have a diagnosis to justify unhealthy behavior.

It is true, though, that being able to categorize symptoms as a point of reference is useful in planning treatment.

For the record, Bipolar is not the same as mood swings. Multiple Personality Disorder is not the same as Schizophrenia and just because a person highly values a clean house, does not give them Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

In the case of the LGBTQQIAP2S community, the very fact that we need our diverse labels is because society as a whole has been un-accepting of us. Hetero-normative folks have said that because we are not like them we are not okay and not welcome. So we band together and develop our own system of labeling ourselves. We come up with this ridiculous acronym that calls attention to the many ways we are different, and the many ways we are still marginalized. We campaign for equal Human rights because the majority of Humans are not willing to see all Humans as equal.

I don’t like labels. I don’t like how they are used. I don’t like how I tend to fixate on my own collection of labels.

What is a better way of being? What is a better way of seeing ourselves and seeing each other? What is a better way of answering the question, “Who are you?”

I suggest that the most important parts of a Human are charter traits. The nature of the heart and soul. How the person is gifted.

Are you kind? Compassionate? Good at listening? Good at caring? Hospitable? Passionate? Logical? Impulsive? Organized? Comfortable with others? In tune with your self? At peace with nature? Say these things!

Are you skilled with words? With images? With making things with your hands? With cultivating life? With having vision for you and for others? With making others feel welcome and safe? With healing? With entertaining? Say these things?

Do you desire a greater peace with God? Say this thing for this concerns the deepest part of you, your soul. But when others say they desire peace with God in a different way, do not hate them for that different way. Seek a deeper love of God and more of God’s wisdom and trust that God will be a righteous and merciful judge at the end of all things.

Said another way, next time you go to label someone, remember that underneath the wreath of labels they wear, there is a person. They can love and they want to be loved.

BTW, this blog was a pain to tag. 😉