Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Great American Lies--Labels

So, I have decided to start a blog series. I realize that there are about 3270598709387509 different blogs out there and that mine will just be one of them. I also realize that most of the topics I am writing on in this series are not "new" or "groundbreaking". I am writing this blog for a few reasons:

1) I like to write. I am not the best writer, but I am not terrible either. Writing about debatable topics helps me to really home in on what I think. It also provides some level of therapy.
2) I love to debate. I think debate is one thing we don't have enough of. We have plenty of argument but not enough debate. I am writing on some topics that will inevitably inspire discussion and debate. I really look forward to that. I just ask that you keep it civil and intelligent.
3) I think more people should voice their opinions on these topics. I think that putting your opinions in words will make you think about the topic and will help you when friends or politicians start in on these topics.

The subject of this series is "Great American Lies." As you can probably glean from the title, I am going to address some things that I feel are lies in our country. Some are societal, "common sense" or "collective wisdom" that are just plain wrong. Some are lies that politicians want you to believe. Some are lies that we tell ourselves in order to block out some painful or uncomfortable situation. Still others are what I would call "lies of convenience". These lies exist to make our lives easier. They streamline our thoughts and allow us to ignore debate and ignore things that may take a little time to work through. All posts in this series will be titled by the lie. I plan on trying to post every Wednesday morning. I would love feedback on the blog or on Facebook where I post them. I really, really want you to keep it civil and free from mean spirited name calling and profanity.

The first lie I am going to address is one of these "Lies of convenience". It has to do with labels. To sum the lie up in one sentence would be something like this: When you have this opinion/stance on an issue/background, you are a Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/etc. Because you are a Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/etc., it is safe to assume you also believe this ______.

This is a lie of convenience because once we label someone, we feel like we know what they are going to say before they say it. It helps us tune out their arguments and allows us to prepare our counters while they are talking. For example, if you were in a discussion with someone that stated "abortion is murder", what would you assume they think about the size and role of government? Most would assume this person is a Republican of some kind and would therefore think that small government, strict constitutionalism, states rights were coming in the discussion. This is an incredibly lazy and dangerous way to approach thoughtful debate. It is actually counter to the whole point of debate. Why even discuss things if you are not going to listen and reply? How can we move forward with new thought and new ideas if we automatically pigeon-hole someone because of one of their opinions?

Unfortunately, these labels don't just attach themselves to stated opinion. If you met someone wearing a UAW t-shirt, what party would you assume they belong to? Why is it shocking to people how conservative Herman Cain is? Why do people automatically assume a Tea Party member is white? If I oppose abortion, why do people automatically assume it is on religious grounds? The labels are EVERYWHERE. They are completely ingrained in our society because it is comfortable to us. If you share some opinion with me and it makes me uncomfortable, it is much easier to say, "Oh, he is just a ____________ and they always think that way." It allows me to ignore your argument and assume that because you are a whatever, I just won't agree with you. And it KILLS intelligent conversation/debate.

And the labels don't stop in discussing political or social topics--look at schools. Schools, especially public schools, are probably the most heinous perpetrators of labelling. If a kid acts up in class repeatedly, he is "assessed". Most of the time, the psychologist is going to attach some kind of label to the kid. It could be ADD, ADHD, ED, LD, or any number of other labels. That kid will have that label for the rest of his school years. Every teacher will get his IEP before they meet the kid. If a teacher sees "ED (emotional disturbance)" on the IEP, they will start having thoughts about that kid  before ever meeting him. The teacher will think he or she understands the kid before ever so much as shaking his hand. I think it is ok for a kid with a real problem to have this information precede them. It is fair to the teacher to see the history of that kid and it is only natural that the teacher will have preconceived notions about the kid. My point is that kid will have ALWAYS be fighting this label (if they chose to overcome their issue) or, even worse, the kid will succumb to the label. Sometimes the kid will say things like, "yeah I punched the kid but it wasn't my fault. I have emotional disturbance." Sounds far-fetched but I have seen it happen more than once. Now, extrapolate that argument into society. "Yeah I (insert crime here) but it wasn't my fault, I am a (insert socio-economic or racial or other label here).

My point is simple, we need to lower the influence of the labels. There is absolutely no government program that will help with this. There is no "group" or "club" to help with this. There is no non-profit. It is something that I ask each of you, individually, to work on. Fight the urge to jump to a label conclusion within the first 30 seconds of a discussion. Fight the instinct to hear the label and assume you know all there is to know about a person or group. LISTEN to what they say on each topic and debate intelligently. We do not have enough intelligent debate nowadays because of labels. This can only change with each individual.

What labels are you guilty of using? What labels have you succumb to (you may not even realize it)? Do you think this is even a problem?