“What do you DO for a living Mike?”
“So, what do you DO?”
I have always been uncomfortable with how people identify themselves by using labels. And how we define others by labels as well.
We label our children when they are young, too.
“My kid is so XYZ!”
“Oh, he’s a XYZ.” “She is such a YYZ.”
When someone asks me “what I do…” I love to throw them off and say, “I am a Dad, husband and friend.” Or I will say, “I am just a happy guy who likes to help others.”
In society we are obsessed with labels. In politics of course. But we like to be able to define who people are by either their profession, or by their interests or hobbies. Even the stuff they possess. But we never really look to truly define people in the things that matter most…their kindness, compassion, character, loyalty, trust, friendship, charity, humor, unselfishness, etc.
In my spiritual studies, I have learned to truly shed my need for an external mask. Something that would protect me from revealing my true self. I have also learned that my passion lies in helping people, in being the most compassionate person I can be and in being kind to every person I meet. That’s WHO I am and what I DO. Of course, I also have a job and hobbies/interests, but those are external things and they don’t define my soul.
When you truly become liberated and free from seeking acceptance from others…when you understand that material things are nothing but ways we seek to make ourselves avoid our own sufferings…when you realize that everything you own or possess doesn’t come with you when you leave this world…you truly get to that place where happiness and love are all that truly matter. And labels therefore slowly disappear and lose their meaning.
My wonderful youngest sister recently shared with me a terrific article on how we use labels to do harm to kids. When we define them as “good at math” and “bad at sports” we are doing them such a disservice. That commentary really opened my eyes as to how we also use labels to define our children, which then begins the process of them associating themselves with the labels we as their parents have attached to them. And then the cycle repeats itself for the rest of their lives.
I also see that we are all works in progress. And that’s a wonderful thing. As it should be. We evolve. We grow. We change. Everything in this world, everything in this Universe is temporary. Every second is but that. A fleeting moment. Nothing is permanent. It’s not how the Universe is built. We are aging every second. Nothing stands still. The clock, the weather, emotions…they all last but a moment.
And therefore, why should we label anyone or anything if we know that it is something that is constantly changing and evolving?
When we label people, or ourselves, we are accepting a simplistic, superficial narrative that society asks us to accept. We rarely look beyond, deeper than that label. It’s like looking at a label on a piece of clothing and never really thinking of the artistry, passion or people that created that object. And we therefore perhaps don’t also see that person’s suffering because we labeled them in a certain way.
I recently watched an amazing movie with my family, Wonder. The central premise of the movie was about how people judge other people either by their appearance or their behavior. And how we rarely look inside or truly “see” who they are. Really struck a nerve with me. Was incredibly powerful and touching.
I try and teach my kids that everyone has something they are struggling with, hoping for, dreaming of or running away from and that you should never simply accept people for what you see or how they act. And, as a result, to look inside that person to truly try and find out who they are.
And as grown ups, I have always worked hard to look beyond the “lawyer”, “doctor” or “accountant” and to see what’s inside that person. As a society, I have long felt that the more we get rid of labels, the more human we become, the more compassionate as a people we are and a more kind species we evolve into.
So perhaps in your own life you can start to see the people that you know less as labels and try to see more of what’s inside. It might be their suffering and pain you see. It might be their beauty and compassion. It might be their humor, silliness, charm, creativity, kindness, compassion, etc. And maybe, just maybe, this change in your thinking will also allow you to shed your own labels and definitions of who you are and you can begin to see the labels you have used to define yourself as not who you really are.