Monday, June 27, 2011


How are we perceived when we display symbols of our accomplishments, interests, and opinions? What about the “labeling” words from our mouths?

Labels (literal and figurative) are descriptive and sources of information - nothing wrong with that; right?

I read a book titled, “The Year of Living Biblically,” by A. J. Jacobs, author of the bestseller, “The Know-It-All.” He is an avowed Jewish agnostic who tried to, literally, live according to the bible for a year - long beard and all.

A very humorous book, and also thought provoking, his attempt to obey the Ten Commandments made me think of the 18” x 24” framed print of the Ten Commandments that my darling husband brought home a few years ago. It took a while for him to find a home for it on one of our walls, and when he did, I was slightly taken aback.

I stepped into our 5’ x 6’ half bath (powder room) and there it was.

“Hmmm… I’m not quite feeling this. Am I not a ‘Good Christian’ because I don’t want it there? Am I being a bit heathenish?”

Sooo…I tell him. Plus, I mention that our non-Christian guests may feel that it’s a little “in your face” as they relieve themselves.

My husband’s display of Christian books, pictures, hats, and t-shirts get him the “religious” label, which is not his favorite because of its catch-all meaning. He just prefers, “Christian.”

Other Labels

* Athletes: Super athletes in particular. They have trophies and ribbons everywhere. My stepfather’s family room was filled with certificates, ribbons, and pictures of him running until my mom had enough of it.

* Personalized license tags

* Mommy vans and SUVs: Many have the little characters stuck on the rear windshields – one for every family member and every pet.

* Other vehicle stickers/emblems:
......College/University alumni
......Kids’ schools – especially private schools
......Sororities and Fraternities
......“My Child is on the Honor Roll”
......The ovals with an acronym of favorite vacations spots; ex. OBX for Outer Banks, CM for Cape May
......The Christian fish
......The Darwin fish
......The Democratic or Republican presidential candidate
......The Confederate flag

* Designer clothes and accessories: My girls like swimsuits and backpacks with “Roxy” visibly weaved into the fabric.

* Professional offices (away and at home): walls plastered with degrees, awards, recognitions, honors, framed newspaper and/or magazine appearances

And what about the labels used when we speak? Typically, our tangible labels correspond with verbal declarations.

Mine is, “I’m a reader and a writer – love to do both.” My “labels” are journals that are stashed throughout my home. Pencils, paper, stationery, and favorite pens are abundant. Shelves of books are in every room. Every time I finish a book, it feels like an accomplishment, the physical book representing the trophy.

A friend commented on one of my blog posts telling of a Seinfeld episode where he asked why people keep books. “Are they trophies to prove that you can read?”

Guilty…only the trophy part, though. I guess everyone knows I can read.

Still, I thought, “Yeah, why do I do that?” So I donated a few (okay, only 3) to the library for their fund raising sale. And guess what? I miss seeing those three books on my shelf.

I realized that I don’t keep my books for other people to see hoping they’ll be impressed. I keep them for “me.”

What label(s) have you attached to your life? Is it for you, or for others to notice? Showing off a little or sharing your interests? :)


Lucky Wife/Bookaholic said...

The hard part is not allowing those labels become your idenity... For a long time I used to brag that i worked for NASA because it made me feel worthy, accomplished and smart. I'm not college educated to I clung to that label for validation. Reality is, everyone from janitors to rocket scientist work there... who's to say what peg of that ladder I was on...

Midlife Mom said...

What a great post! You always have thought provoking things which is GREAT! I hope that some of the labels people have for me are: considerate, loving, Christian, helpful, kind, and even nutty!! :o)

Just Two Chicks said...

My labels: Teacher, wife, so-and-so's mom... and I'm sure there are other labels given to me from others. I had to laugh about your Ten Commandments on the bathroom wall!

Buckeroomama said...

One label that I never thought I would wear --and wear proudly! --is "Mom." =)

Chapters From My Life said...

I love the label 'MOM' and hate the label "cancer survivor" though it is much better with the survivor beside cancer.

jiturajgor said...

Anita,in India we have cast and sub-cast systems in society.So there are common write-ups behind cars like 'PATIDAR' 'RAJPUTS''SHINHS' 'JATS'and so on.Comedy starts when we see a stray dog pissing on parked vehicles right on that names,especially when written near the number plates.

SuziCate said...

As much as I am guilty of labeling, I hate being labeled. I suppose it's just a human way of describing or fitting life into boxes. I try not to do it with judgment or malice though I suppose it is judging even if it's nice.

Anonymous said...

Did you mention. "Spouse?"

Abby said...

Ooooh, how thought provoking! There are many labels I use to refer to myself, now that I think about it. Not one defines me, not to me anyway.

I wonder about people who put those stickers and such on their cars, as I would never do that. I'm just not the decorate-the-car type, and I'm curious to know what makes others pay the extra cash for a personalized license plate.

K said...

Well, it took some time, but I finally got rid of the "just" as in "I'm just a stay at home mom." Now I answer the question as I stay home with my girls and I'm a writer. But gosh, those two labels certainly put me in a spot. But I love it and am proud.

Labels are coming up in conversations more from my 4 year old who is starting to question the world around her. We have such a responsibility as parents to put them on the right path :)

Monalisa said...

Oh boy! you made me think! What label did I attach? All through my life I tried to be handsfree and walk like a traveler on earth, carrying nothing (the worst part of it) I wanted to live like I was born, nothing in hand! I was more like a Plato or Socrates. Never believed in physical labels. This continued until maybe 2 years back. Now i've changed in thoughts but honestly I don't know what label, but you leave me thinking. What label, oh!

Monalisa said...

Aaah.. I got it! It was a Pen. I always carried a pen!

Rebecca S. said...

You know, I realized something recently. Since I was a kid I have resisted labels with a passion, but I so want to be able to say to people, "I am a ___" because that would quantify me to them and to myself. Instead I have to say, oh, I'm a mom and a volunteer, a writer with a small w, a this, a that. Generally I'm too busy to care, but on occasion I feel a bit at loose ends with all these tags.

I find the outward displays a bit limiting. The fish or the Darwin creature eating the fish are both quite distinct labels. I think it is more important to be a Christian from the inside out, not the outside in, if you know what I mean. I find it hard to part with books, too. I keep them because I like the way they look on the shelves and I read my favourites over and over again.
Good post (again!)

Sohailah said...

I LOVE reading your blog. It always makes me think, and I like that. I also like to keep books. For me, they oftentimes feel like friends. I like re-reading certain novels, and I like referring to things I've read - in biographies, etc.

I also get the "religious" label - my non-christian friends like to refer to me as "very religious" - they think they're complimenting me, but our filters have a bit to do with our labels, don't they? To me, that's a bit of an insult or makes me concerned that they think I'm narrow-minded and/or judgmental...

Hope your vacation is GREAT!

Unknown said...

Great blog and very thought provoking. I too hate labels but seem to be caught up as most of us are. Hmmm, some of my labels;

gregarious -> hermit
family person -> serene
artist -> athletic
bibliophile -> gamer
animal lover -> carnivore
tattooed -> spiritual

I like to keep people guessing. :p

Julie Magers Soulen Photography

Anonymous said...

You know....since moving to Japan I've had my "labels" stripped away.I speak very little Japanese at the moment so I'm basically a blank page to people. But it's funny how FAST people want to put a label on you!! For a while I enjoyed being that blank've begun to get those labels plastered on me again...."English Teacher" is the one they seem to like most here....I was hoping to be "blank" for a while...guess not!

Hilary said...

I remember that Seinfeld episode. I've felt the same way! Recently someone told me that when they think of me, they think of tequila and food on a stick (what in the world?)! Sometimes, the labels we have in mind for ourselves aren't the ones others see us as having.

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

Hi Anita, I know I've been gone from here for a while. Since the loss of my mother and step-mother, it's taken me until now to even feel like truly blog hopping.

Labels are everywhere, but the ones that always hit me right between the eyes are those that we all give others when we're judgmental, when we pigeon-hole them, when we're calling names, or gossiping ....or when we're downright prejudice.

I actually love where your husband hung the 10 Commandments.

Arlee Bird said...

We are labeled no matter what and there is no escaping it. My books, CDs, and DVDs show off some of my tastes, though few people see them. I try to stay relatively unobtrusive, but I guess that labels me as someone who doesn't want to call attention to himself. Hopefully, my labels convey a positive image of who I am.

Tossing It Out

photowannabe said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a nice comment. Its really appreciated.
I really dislike using them but they sometimes seem unavoidable.
I really don't like to call attention to myself and when I do say I'm a photographer, I find the pressure is on to live up to that label.
Great statement about books being trophies I have read. That's a perfect definition for me.

Robin said...

Hi Anita...This post reminds me of one of the books I read from Krishnamurti...I cant remember which one it was but it has always stuck with me...regarding labels and conformity and how they really just shelter us from the truth of who we have to cling to any labels is out of fear and doubt...and a need to belong...I guess I have labels about myself...but I try not to use them...instead.. I dont have to call myself a Social Worker or an artist...but to use the verb instead and say that I am creating, investigating or observing...well that does not go over to well in the professional I guess that is when I resort to using a quick and simple label...Lol...Id just rather not..!

Hilary said...

To a large degree, our blogs are our labels. And we share what we don't mind being labeled. Photographer, writer, humourist, artist, poet, political activist.. etc. We're all out here hanging our labels for all to see.

Unknown said...

The first part of this post had me cracking up! I would feel like I was kind of pooping on the ten commandments if they were in the bathroom. Hilarious where he put those!

The second part made me think. I think my label is: Can't be bothered with makeup and you're lucky if my hair is in a decent ponytail. Is that a label?

Tabor said...

Labels to me are a short hand way to identify someone. We think that it helps us understand them, but it can be inaccurate as well. Labels are OK as long as we realize they are probably not the essence of the person. Mom is a great label...but what kind of mom? Harassed, overachiever, self-sacrificing, joyful??? Labels are too narrow.