The human mind is an incredible processing machine, and like any good storage software, it structures and categorizes information.
We naturally love to label and define stuff. It’s a way to make sense of things. Whatever we read, think, and experience, we subconsciously categorize in our brains. The stuff on the foundational level of our thinking is what makes up our worldview, but all the other stuff finds it’s way somewhere in our internal taxonomy.
So, using our minds we label stuff… and yes, we even label people.
The problem however, is when we allow our pre-defined labels to filter the information we take in. So, a typical example is when we listen to somebody who has an opposing viewpoint (political party, group, etc..) and we don’t give them the time of day because we have already defined them as wrong. They must be wrong because they fall into this label – Liberal, Conservative, Marxist, Capitalist, environmentalist, etc…
A good example is the current handling of the Norway shooter as played out in the news media. As soon as this tragedy happened, the media’s reaction was to label the person… why? to try to make sense of him (psychoanalyze him). So, first he was a Muslim terrorist, and then he was labeled as a Christian fundamentalist. The problem is, if you read the info on him, he doesn’t fit in any of our normal categories, because he isn’t normal.
The Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, the Virginia Tech shooter, these are people that find ideas to feed their hatred and delusional desires. They don’t fit in the cultural boxes we define ‘people groups’ in.
How much of life are we missing, because we wrongfully label people and therefore disregard or ignore them? Do we stay away from authors because we have already labeled them as heretical to our worldviews? filmmakers, artists, celebrities? How often have we labeled somebody as odd or weird, and then after getting to know them, discovered how beautiful they are as people.
Labeling people is sometimes a way of defining them as ‘the other.’ distancing ourselves from them. It is the root of where racism begins.
Our mind needs to structure information, it’s natural. But true open-mindedness is allowing our labels to be questioned. People are far too complex to label.