LABELS LIE. SELF-IDENTITY NEEDS TRUTH.
By Ashley Smith:
When we first began the conversation about LABELS LIE, I was profoundly moved by each story and response. I realized that I was not alone in the shame, pain and ghosts of past labels. It was unsettling and motivating… and showed me the power of judgment, love, grace and healing. The conversation also reminded me of the beginning of my journey of studying human behavior in college. It brought back the theories that illuminated my personal journey to learn more about society and me.
That journey in college, through studying past research, actually showed me more about my self-identity and why I chose the behavioral patterns I did or do. I wanted to share one particular sociological theory that I believe relates directly to the LABELS LIE campaign.
The consequences of being labeled can chance the trajectory of a person’s life, and usually negatively, we know this not because it is some magical thought, but through years of research and through human behavior patterns.
People have a profound impact on how we view life, reality, behavior and our self-identity. We see with social research with several sociological, psychological and communication theories, that through the use of symbolic interaction (language), we are in an ongoing game of charades, but in how it relates to us. We exchange meaning in the way we communicate to each other- through symbol use.
George Herbert Mead showed in 1934 how infants come to know persons first and only later come to know things. He asserted that our concept of self /personality is composed of self-awareness and self-image (both highly influenced by people).
Furthermore, he argued that the self-image is constructed of ideas about WHAT WE THINK OTHERS ARE THINKING ABOUT US.
Our self-identity and possible behaviors may be determined/influenced by the terms used to describe or classify us.
Through the Looking Glass Theory, we see that we are shaped by what we see in other people reflected back about who we are.
Simply put, the labels we use for people may dramatically influence their perception of self and further influencing their behavior. People may even act more deviant based on the label. Sometimes, the labeled individual incorporates the label in their concept of self.
When labels are used, they are constructing someone's reality.
Additionally, social research has found that people who accept labeling of others have a difficult time changing their judgment or opinion about the person, despite evidence to the contrary. That means, being the label maker also profoundly impacts reality, too. It could correlate to judgement, hate and long time fallacies.
So what does all this research mean?
Labels stick and are enduring... and have the power to help construct someone's self identity, label maker or person with the label. It's a cycle that feeds the negative and deviant. It rewards the hate and stifles hope and grace. It leaves little to no room for positive change or restoration. Labels are not flexible nor do they grow, they are definitive and untrue.
This campaign is more than just shocking images to me, it is the beginning of breaking a long lasting cycle.
How can we break the cycle?
Spread TRUTH. Do the research. See the infinite value and possibility in someone first, celebrate them for being simply alive. Affirm the life in each of us, give room for change and new beginnings. Spread HOPE everywhere you go. Leave traces of GRACE. Set someone up to WIN.