Diane's Blog


Why do we label people? And why do we label ourselves? As a writer I tend to pay more attention to people’s behavior and listen to what they say because that’s where I find inspiration for my characters. And one thing I have noticed consistently is how we put people in tiny boxes, slap labels on them and seal the lid shut. We do it to others and we do it to ourselves. And I’m no different.

But what compels us to do this, to define ourselves by such narrow parameters like equal, different, right, wrong, fat, skinny, slow, intelligent, sweet, generous, selfish, weird, normal, etc? Is it because it’s simpler this way? Because it saves us time? When we attach a label to a person we immediately get that false sense of I know them. They become familiar to us and we feel safe. We feel like we really know them when in reality we know only the side that person is showing us at the moment. Unfortunately, nowadays, most people don’t even want to dig deeper, to discover the real, genuine person underneath that public facade. And the reason for this is often…because we don’t have time.

You know that guy at the office who always cracks jokes and makes people laugh? We all have a colleague like that. You see him in the morning and instantly smile as you say “hey, buddy, what’s up?” because you’re expecting to hear something funny, something upbeat. He’s the Joker, right? And then a few weeks later you come in to work and find out he killed himself the night before. “What??? How could this be? He was so happy all the time!” Evidently he wasn’t. Maybe he was lonely, and in pain, but he just didn’t show it. Because nobody ever took the time to ask him how he was, and really mean it. Why? Because he already had a label attached to him, remember? We already “knew” him.

Can you remember times in your life when you have been labeled, and it hurt you or made you feel uncomfortable? Like when you were at school and the other kids labeled you a nerd because you happened to like reading and studying, and were a little shy? Or a no-good kid because you went through some really difficult times at home, had a lot of bottled-up anger inside and couldn’t focus on your studies? But being a nerd doesn’t automatically make you ugly and un-cool, and being a no-good kid doesn’t mean you’ll end up a criminal. When we are reducing the person to just one label we are ignoring the full picture of that unique human being and we are just being lazy and shallow.

After my friends found out I had written a book, and they began reading it, I was surprised to hear many of them say: I never thought you’d write crime. Romance, yes, but crime? Never. When I asked them why, these are the labels I got: kind, sweet, shy, loving, most non-violent person I know. Does anyone really think that a person can be described using just a few words? We are infinitely more complex than that and we also have the power to change if we don’t like something about ourselves.

Try this little exercise the next time you meet someone you know. Say to them: “Tell me about yourself. What makes you happy?” You’ll be surprised at their reaction. Some will laugh and give you a smartass answer, others will look at you as if you’ve suddenly grown another set of ears, but a few will try to understand if you really care, and if what they see convinces them, they’ll open up and start sharing. And with that sharing you’ll find yourself with a whole new set of labels for that person. Because the more you know about someone the more you understand how beautifully complex human beings are and how limiting it is to label them.