It really annoys me when people try and put a label on me, regardless of what that label is based off of, whether it’s physical appearance, interest, belief, personality, whathaveyou.
Sure, I use labels to describe myself in a pinch, when I don’t have time to unpack all the different facets that make up my personality: nerd, dreamer, gamer, etc. But even then, there is so much more to a person than the label we try to place on them, the label we place on ourselves or the stereotype created for us based off of one aspect of our identity.
Let’s take me, for example.
I’m a nerd. A huge one. But what does that really mean? I love Lord of the Rings. I enjoy the genres of both fantasy and science fiction, in books, cinema and games. I play DnD on the weekends, I write books, I play video games, I have T-shirts that make references only those from that random would understand and I plan to learn Elvish before I become fluent in Spanish. I can read a 600 page book in one sitting, if the world will stop bothering me long enough to let me. I have my library card number memorized, but not my debit card.
Sure, you could sum all that up into the label of “nerd,” but the type of nerd that I am, isn’t the same type as someone else who might use the same label. I’m a nerd, yet I’ve only seen two of the Star Wars films. I only got into DnD within the last year (and even then, I don’t follow Critical Role). There are plenty of books, films and games that I haven’t gotten into, which you could claim takes a hit into my nerd status.
And even though that’s just a huge part of my personality and my life, that’s still just one part.
I’m also a writer. Not published, even though someone else could be on the NYT Bestseller List and still use that same title. I’m an athlete, in the sense that I work out regularly, follow my own training routine and care about what I eat, yet I don’t actually compete. So perhaps I should use the label of active, rather than athlete? Does that paint a clearer picture? I’m a believer, in the sense that I worship God. But my version of God is very different than many who I know and on the average day, I’m ashamed to be associated with Christians, because I seriously can’t fathom how you can worship God but hate a Muslim or believe that someone is damned because they love a woman and was born with a vagina. I hate a sleeve yet I don’t do drugs, I prefer to listen to my screamo music loud in my car yet I am a passive driver. I struggle with anxiety and depression and overthinking yet smile more than anyone else you meet. I am obsessed with dogs but have adopted my boyfriend’s cats like they are my own. I’m a hopeless romantic that refuses to be anything else.
What label would you use to encompass all of that?
Here’s the worst part of it, though.
Even though it drives me up the wall when people try to put a label on me and are then shocked when suddenly, that label doesn’t cover all of me or I don’t fit into the mold they believe that label encompassed, guess what?
I do this to strangers all of the time.
And I hate that I do this.
I work at a college library. I see all sorts of people, all of the time, and in my head, I silently pass judgement and assumptions on them, based on what I think they believe/prescribe to/experience, influenced by both what society has trained me to believe and what my own sampling of experiences has tainted. A sorority woman can’t possible be a nerd. There’s no way they can be professional, wearing those shorts. They’re never going to pass that test, they are laughing so loud when they should be studying. They cheer for that team? Automatically judges them.
On and on and on.
It’s never with malicious intent. Half the time, it’s completely unconscious or almost…instinctual, though that doesn’t feel like the right word. Instantaneous, maybe? I think it’s something everyone probably does, whether they mean to or not; and prolly always will do, at least to some extent.
But that doesn’t make it okay and that doesn’t mean we can’t try to improve. I certainly want to try and lessen how much I do this, both with people I don’t know and those I do. I’m trying to be more aware of when I do it and remind myself that, even though I have that opinion for X reasons, doesn’t mean that opinion is true, accurate or completely encompassing of that person’s character and personality. They deserve the chance for me to get to know them, the real them, every facet and let my opinions of that be based off that: the entire picture, not just a quick snapshot.
Because there is just too many parts that makes each of us uniquely whole to try and box that in neatly.