Friday, December 07, 2007


It seems that all around me people are mentioning they don't want to be labeled.
I'm not really sure why that is.
My best guess is that folks feel if they're put into a category, then others will assume they know all there is to know about them. That if they are This, then they cannot be That.
But maybe it's even more than that.
Maybe it's that there are millions of variances of one idea. And that each person is an individual, and that if you label them, they'll lose their individuality and specialness. Maybe we get just too damned much of homogenization.

I personally don't have a problem with labels.
I'm a girl. I'm an unschooler. I'm someone that tries to be a good mama. I'm part this, part that, and a thousand other things.

Maybe I don't have a problem with being labeled because I fully accept everyone's individuality. It (individuality) has been a big part of my life for a long, long time. I thumbed my nose at conventionalism and conformity at a young age, and got the defiance out of my system. In insisting that I be allowed to go my own way, I automatically assume that everyone else has thousands of small parts too.

How I can relate to the idea of being labeled is being judged. Maybe for some it's the same thing, I'm not sure. Maybe folks feel that others are saying or thinking "you are not as you claim because This, in truth, means this...".
I don't know.

Labels, to me, are just descriptions. It's the short of it. It's a rough representative of thoughts or feelings or day to day processes. Of philosophies.
I don't feel that labels are detrimental to our beings at all. Indeed, I look at them as colors.
There are millions and millions of colors, and millions and millions of shades of those colors.
I find them useful, interesting, and helpful.
Without them, I think we -or at least I, certainly- would be lost in a land of murky gray blandness.
Homogenized, indeed.


Mama Podkayne said...

This is the same thought process we are facing at home. On one hand we struggle to find others like us and the labels are incredibly useful (I'd have never found your blog had it not been for the unschooler ring link label) BUT on the other hand unschooling defines itself by something that's it is not and there has got to be a better life or world schooling. Then you add the word radical to anything and outsiders immediately think nutjob or that you don't practice moderation when in fact in the case it means something else.

So we are still discussing how to approach this as a family and on our blog. My family and friends who are homeschool (and some not) supportive cringe at our unschooler references. Why? They are fine with what we do, it is the label that gets in the way of understanding.

whimsigal said...

For some, labeling is a way to pigeon-hole another. Labels can be used to belittle and therefore people may object to being labeled out of fear of how the label may be used.

Like Mama P said, the unschooling label has been both a help and a hindrance for us. It helps me find information that I need on the topic but it makes some people wary of us, of how we parent. Not that I care about what other people think. It just is what it is. Labels are the filters that people use to decide worth, I think. Does that make any sense or is that just a silly thought?

Stephanie said...

When I first came across "radical" unschooling I was very uncomfortable with the term. I agree that "radical" sounds extreme and perhaps violent, and certainly Out There.
Also, I felt that in its very insistence of being educationally undogmatic, or non-rulish, :) if you will, that it was a really rather rigid idea and philosophy - oxymoronic it seemed to me.

But, in time, :)... now I've lived it and surrounded myself with the idea and have come quite comfortable with it. Living ru has just become that. R.U.
The term itself doesn't seem rigid or unforgiving to me, it encompasses lots of ideas for me, as I've mentioned before - respectful parenting, living and learning freely, without artificially imposed boundaries, ageism, or familial hierarchy.

I guess for me it's a philosophy, like a religion :), and while it still has variances because it is made up of individuals and their interpretations (and habits and fears and insecurities), R.U. is a pretty specific idea, and I'm glad that we have the term, as it certainly gets to the short of it if/when you find another that says "We're (radical) unschoolers."
If I hear such a thing, I usually think "how nice!". :)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's grown on me.

Stephanie said...

Evie -
"Labels are the filters that people use to decide worth, I think."

This is a really powerful description.
I guess the correlation is, then, when people say "I don't like labels" what they mean (to my head) is "I don't want to be judged."
People want to be accepted (or not) for their Whole Selves, including what they have once been or who they may be tomorrow, and not automatically dismissed and filed away as one certain thing. That a Certain Thing does not tell the whole of the story.

But on the other hand, aren't these things helpful? I mean, without them, it would take us years to get to know (by philosophizing only) the grit that makes up the whole of the self. Wouldn't it?

So what's the solution?

Maybe it just begins with letting people describe themselves however they choose, and finding out what exactly that means to them?
Maybe in our acceptance (not dreaded supercilious tolerance, but kindly accepting people) of others we move society to a kinder and gentler place?
I mean, does such a thing begin with Me?
(not me, Stephanie, but Me, the individual, of course.)


whimsigal said...

Well, it's not a change that will happen overnight and must start somewhere so why not Me? You're right, the labels are helpful it's just they way We use them that can be not so great. We must continue to live by example and by doing so hope that society at large sees that the world can be a kinder, gentler place without using labels as weapons against one another.

Stephanie said...

"society.... sees that the world can be a kindler, gentler place without using labels as weapons against one another."
Another beautiful thought.
I'm enjoying this discussion!
Thanks to all who engage(d) in it.

whimsigal said...

Thank YOU for bringing up such a thoughtful topic. You can always be counted on to start up an interesting conversation, friend. You must be fun to have at a party!

Melissia said...

For me the point of removing labels is to remove my need to fit the label. I just want to be me. There are a few labels that I clearly am, mom, sister, wife. I don't care about those. But just as I have never espoused a religion because I like the feeling of not being confined by someone else's ideals, I do not want to confine myself by choosing another confining label either. It does not change who I am, it does change who I feel I need to be. I just feel more free without the label. I now feel free to be the best ME.

If you like the label and it works for you, there is no reason for you to change. However, I would say the world does not look gray or bleak from my perspective. It looks better to me than it did before. You can still enjoy the rainbow without naming the colors. The colors are not gone. A rose by any other name smells just as sweet. It works for me in a big way.

Stephanie said...

"I do not want to confine myself by choosing another confining label either. It does not change who I am, it does change who I feel I need to be."
This is brilliant!
And something that I can sink my teeth into.

You're right - and well spoke a feeling that I haven't been able to name - it's part of holding my/your/our self to a particular idea, rule, or expectation.

The only way I can argue against the idea is to say while representing one's self to another - in ten words or less, :), descriptions still come in handy.
It's like what Julie said in Utah HS - "to homeschoolers I say 'we're unschoolers', because they have an idea of what that means, and with unfamiliars I just say 'we're homeschoolers'."

But yes, I agree with you.
Losing the label means losing the confine.
:) Sovereignty.

piscesgrrl said...

As usual I'm a day late and a dollar short - :) - but I am there with the selective sharing. I like some of my labels, proud of them even, but only in certain company. I too say I'm an unschooler when among homeschoolers (especially when I want to make a quick statement ;-) and a homeschooler when among schoolers. It's in the usage, the connotation, the implied meaning that labels can build up or tear down. A friend might refer to me as RU and mean it with the utmost respect - a whole bunch of folks (in my hs'ing group, I'd bet) would refer to me as RU and have that disparaging raised-eyebrow "ya, you heard me" thing goin' on. Same label, different intent.