In class the other day my yoga teacher said something about moving beyond labels. This struck an “AHA” chord in my soul as I realized while words are necessary, they can also limit, divide, hinder, and minimize because we often think labels define a person, place, or thing. Instead of naming, separating, and fighting as Republican orDemocrat, male orfemale, black or white, straight or LGBTQ, and so on, I think moving beyond labels will help us become more loving.
Consider me, for instance. I’m a divorcee (twice!), disabled, medically retired, a man, a yoga teacher, a runner, and a Christ follower. While all these are useful words for describing me and allowing people to get to know me, they don’t define me. Consider “yogi”, for example. While stereotypically yogis are thought of as free-spirited and flexible, I’m more planned and not especially bendy. What I’m trying to say is when we define our selves or others by a label, or two, or even a hundred, we will inevitably miss out on the complex richness, depth, and beauty of said person. We will miss or limit the profound tapestry of amazingness the person is or could be.
Think of a wine glass, for example. (I bet you didn’t see that coming 🙂 Generally people ONLY use wine glasses to drink wine, and maybe sparkling cider, from, right? Yet, this limits the potential of the thing. By expanding our horizons a bit we realize it can be a way to make water more fancy, it can be used as a decoration with corks from memorable bottles of wine in it, can be used for morning juice, it would make an excellent tool for capturing a spider in your house so you can set it free outside, it can be filled with little colored glass balls and used as a centerpiece, and on it goes.
Now, lets consider a Republican. While I used to identify as a Republican, now I’d say I’m part of the human party, in that I vote for whoever/whatever is the most loving for the most people. Anyway, generically a Republican would be fiscally conservative, pro-military, for small government, pro-life, want to limit taxes, and so on. YET, any given person who says they’re a Republican isn’t necessarily all or even most of those. My point here is it’s easy for me to meet a Republican and assume all those are true about her and that those beliefs define and confine her. However, in doing so I would complete miss who she really is. Even if she did affirm all those points, for instance, in seeing her as her political affiliation there’s a good chance I wouldn’t notice her heart for the poor, her love for orphans, her desire to house the homeless, the way she visits lonely people at the old folks home every week, and so on.
Dr. Brené Brown says: People are hard to hate close-up. Move in. For instance, say you generally dislike or at odds with ______ (fill in a political party, nationality, organization, religion, or whatever here). If you have an image from that, keep holding it in mind, but just for the sake of this point I’ll say it’s the KKK. Imagine your neighbor is in the KKK, though you didn’t know it. He’s a kind and gentle soul. He mows your lawn while you’re at work. He brings you fresh, grilled veggies whenever he BBQs. He helped get you to the hospital when an emergency arose. You eat at each other’s house once or twice a month, laughing, connecting, and enjoying one another. He’s complicated. Being part of the KKK doesn’t define him. It’s hard to hate him close-up. In a lot of ways, that’s what I’m getting at in this blog. Though, while Brené says that in reference to other people, I also mean it as it pertains to us.
I teach yoga, and in Blissology, the yoga school/tribe I’m a part of, instead naming a person tight, stiff, or inflexible, we call him/her “strong”. We do that in part because if you tell yourself you’re ______ you’ll likely be that, become that, or be stuck there. The labels we put on ourselves can be limiting and disabling, especially when they’re negative. The more we can move on these inner definitions and mentalities, then, the more fully, easily, and wonderfully we’ll be able to transform into the most AMAZING versions of ourselves.
I’m a man, and in our culture there’s a strong message that men aren’t supposed to cry, men are good at repairing cars, men dig sports, men easily fix things around the house, men eat meat, men love to hunt, men don’t cook, men do the yard work and not the laundry, and so on. Only ONE of these is true about me. In many ways, the label of “man” does a poor job of defining me. I’m a Christian, and one of the most amazing ongoing works of Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity, wherein there is no separation between us, we are unified, we are beyond labels, and we live in peaceful, life-giving harmony no matter our race, religion, sexuality, political party, and so on. I think one of the mountaintops of the Bible is when Paul declares this Truth by writing: “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.” (Galatians 3.28, The Message version)
I think the more we can move beyond labels to relationship, connection, and unity, the happier, healthier, and more harmonious we’ll become globally, communally, and individually. What do you think?
Grace and peace,