… and the Zebra continued to ponder… “Am I white with black stripes, or am I black with white stripes? Oh no, if I cannot answer this question, how on earth am I going to be able to concentrate tomorrow? I am going to lose sleep tonight as I stay up to ponder this question. I need to know, I HAVE to know – am I white with black stripes or black with white stripes? I MUST be able to define who I am!!!” A wiser, older Zebra soon approached him and said, “It is quite simple, in a short time you will be neither black with white stripes or white with black stripes – you will be the Lion’s lunch if you continue with this nonsense!”
“We tend to treat labels as real, rather than as representations of reality.” ~ Dewight R. Middleton. Sometimes we are so anxious to define ourselves that we are diverted towards looking at insignificant definitions of who we are – defining ourselves by race, socioeconomic status, number of children, the car we drive. We find ourselves so desperate for a way to define ourselves, that we are willing to label our shell, sometimes at a significant cost and detriment to who we really are.
One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Martina Navratilova. She said, “Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.” So simple. So poignant. So true. We are all SO MUCH MORE than a label. When we use labels to define us, we are using labels to limit our true potential – and we are focusing on the outside, instead of the inside – we are focusing on the shell of a human, instead of the content of their character. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Once you label me you negate me.” We lose a part of ourselves when we succumb to an identity wrapped up in a label.
“I don’t care what people call me, labels have the negative value of making smaller boundaries for people.” ~ Michael Graces. Labels limit us in so many ways. They limit our self-esteem, our success, our self-confidence, and make us feel smaller. Steve Maraboli says, “Sometimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on an event. Looking at the same event with fresh eyes.” I believe this is the same with the way we treat the people around us and ourselves. If we are able to change the labels we place on ourselves and others then we will have the freedom to look at ourselves with fresh eyes.
Labels do NOT mean anything. We can certainly seek to define ourselves, yet we must understand our motives in the definition. Why do we seek to define ourselves and what exactly are we attempting to define? Are we defined by our heritage and background? By our daily roles (i.e.: wife, mother, student, lover, etc.?) Maybe we are defined by the friends we have.
I would like to live in a world where individuals are truly judged and defined only by the content of their character. I want to live in a world where a person’s service to their community has more value than the car they drive. I want to live in a world where educators are valued as much as doctors and lawyers. However, until this comes to be, I want to live in a world where I am confident being me.
Today, 331 days until 40, I will NOT worry about defining myself. Labels are indeed for clothing. Instead, I will seek to live my life in a way that gives back to others. In so doing, I am creating a new identity, one of global awareness and service.
I hope all people one day will step away from labeling themselves by superficial terms and seek understanding of the inner character of those whose company they keep.