Tuesday, April 26, 2016
No labels, No boxes
Frank W. Dremel
“What labels me, negates me.”
If I had a penny for every time my mother said, “no labels, no boxes”, I would never have to work a day in my life. In fact, she has said it so often, I tend to say it myself. Has she brainwashed me? Possibly, but I embrace this particular creed.
Kierkegaard was another who was not overly fond of labels or boxes. He recognized the self-affirming power of knowing oneself well enough to throw off the tags that seem an inevitable part of life. Not only do people want to stick these tags on others, we tend to accept those labels for ourselves if we aren’t careful. How limiting it is to live under the label “stupid” if one’s IQ isn’t considered high enough, or to be given that same label just because one doesn’t conform to currently accepted norms. Terms like stupid, moron, idiot, weird, odd, crazy are all thrown around with apparent ease, and often given out of context or with little to no regard for basic definition.
Even more dangerous are terms such as liberal or conservative or left or right, when it comes to politics. This is especially true given that definitions change across countries, regions, or time periods. What was classical liberalism fifty years ago is considered libertarian today. All of these considerations are important when one gets to the crux of Kierkegaard’s statement. Once I am labeled, I am negated. I am rendered useless, for I am only relevant in one box. I can’t possibly be liberal and conservative for these two are regarded as at odds with one another. But let us face the Truth: I can be both. I am an Individual, with thoughts and ideas and ideals that cross more than the strict definition of one color of a spectrum.
It is increasingly obvious in everything from Identity politics to Philosophical schools of thought that if someone doesn’t agree on every single point of a “box” that person becomes the enemy. With the advent of facebook, I can easily track comments from groups where a person is attacked by the masses for not falling in line with a commonly held belief. For example, a person who is generally identified as homosexual is not welcome in the gay “community” if they also self-identify as conservative. I have seen a person who identifies as “libertarian” be kicked out of a group for not fully rejecting every instance of war. These people are outcasts then, simply for not being able to be labelled. In a way, it is yet another “either-or” question. Either be labelled or unlabeled. You will be negated either way.
However, what Kierkegaard argues is that the lack of a label allows one to be free to participate, to engage, to express with no real barriers to living out his beliefs. The need of other people to label everyone is what needs to be tamed.
When you look at a flower, you don’t just look at its petals. You don’t look at its stem separately, or each seed individually. Most people take in the whole flower. The beauty comes from each individual part, to be sure, but when viewed as a whole, it becomes recognizable. Each part works together, each part is necessary and essential. Each part is beautiful in and of itself. But to be a flower, it is viewed together. That same way our true selves are best viewed together. And each part of us has a different expression. I have views that run the full gamut of ideology. I don’t belong in a box or a cage. No one does. Thank you Soren Kierkegaard.