By Lori Welch Brown
A Label-Less World
As a professional organizer and Virgo, I love labels. They can magically transform a closet or file cabinet. Labels work great for sifting through piles and identifying ‘like’ things. The Container Store has made a business out of categorizing and labeling. Praise be to bins and label makers! Labels, however, take on a different meaning when we attach them to people. Unlike socks and Beanie Baby collections, human beings have way too many characteristics to pigeon hole. Most of us learn Labeling 101 early, however. Tattletail, liar, cry baby, and teacher’s pet all start the moment we step foot on a playground. By the time we progress to gym class and lockers, the labels carry even more weight. Slut! Loser! Freak! Fag! And then we become full-fledged, voting adults and the labels not only hurt us, they divide us. If, however, we are going to wear the label ‘adult’, we have to agree that there are just some labels that we won’t tolerate. Unfortunately, those labels are sometimes self-appointed and/or are aimed at deliberately hurting others. Sadly, those are the ones making headlines lately.
I’ve worn a lot of labels in my life: daughter, friend, sister-in-law, niece, cousin, aunt, assistant, organizer, manager, etc. And, probably quite a few I wasn’t aware I had earned: b*T#H, snob, control freak (ok, maybe just a wee bit true), etc. You don’t put this many miles on the ol’ odometer without a few barbs thrown at you. I don’t believe any of us really wants or likes labels, but they seem to magnetically attach themselves like dog hair to black pants. It’s awesome when the labels make us stand tall and proud. “Lori—you’re a genius!” “What? Me? Really?! Oh, stop!” Unfortunately, more often than not, labels weigh us down.
Recently I found myself with a label I didn’t ask for—Bionic Lori—due to the fact that I’m about to embark on my second hip replacement in a span of three months due to some bad genes and painful arthritis. While I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, this new ‘label’ has helped initiate dialog with complete strangers who are eager to share their stories and make me part of their tribe. As I hobble by they ask, “Knee?” When I stop to explain, they share their stories of remedies, surgeries, scars, recovery, etc. Their stories make me feel comforted, hopeful and like I’ve become part of a new club. I had the same feeling after my mom died when I became part of the grieving and loss club. I suddenly had a shared bond with people whom I would have never imagined—people I had relatively little in common with beyond this ‘shared’ experience. Their stories, hugs and words of encouragement buoyed me beyond belief and I am eternally grateful.
Unlike socks or utility bills, our tribes can’t be identified by a single marker or label. We find our tribe through shared experiences, common paths along the journey, passions pursued, heartfelt beliefs, loves and losses. When I draw or paint, the blank page starts to become art through the mixing and blending. No one person or color can stand alone. You just have to look outside your window to see that’s a law of nature. The beauty in all that we see comes from an array of shapes, colors and characteristics.
When I was at the hospital doing my pre-op stuff, I realized that the volunteer, Barney, who signed me in lived on my street. We are neighbors who see each other occasionally and wave as we drive past. Our only common bond seemed to be our address, but during the span of the morning, I learned so much more about this man who is of a different generation/gender/color. He brightened my day (and the others in the waiting room) in ways I can’t explain. I am so blessed that he crossed my path beyond a wave and a smile. To this day, I’m wondering how many Barney’s I’ve missed out on because I didn’t take the time to stop and listen.
Regardless of our differences, for certain our common bond is that we all believe that evil and hatred don’t belong in our communities. Less labels and more listening is a good starting point.