Every morning my feet hit the floor, or are pulled to the floor from my early rising daughter, the world tells me, in no uncertain terms, that it’s confused and torn and bleeding. Headlines are cap locked and urgent. Words like “oppression” and “white supremacy” have become common, every day language. My kids ask questions about safety and justice that I can no longer sugar coat and so they’re becoming “woke” on an array of topice far earlier than any little person should have to be “woke.” It’s all so gross friend. Like constant roadkill. If we allow these concerning realities to dominate, they sure will. With vengence.
And so I’ve been walking. And while I walk I listen to safe people say words that challenge me and educate me and call me to action through podcasts and audio books. Safe people, to me, have become people with no other agenda than to understand one another and the cluster we’ve found ourselves living in. They’re people who might love Jesus and they might not. They might be Democrats and they might not. They might be Islamic or black or white or Indian. They might be oppressed and they might live in the top 1%. They might live with specialabilities as we like to call them and they might be typically functioning. None of that guides my listening habits these days. Their labels mean nothing to my ability to learn from them and shift my perspective on what matters.
Through my listening and walking and listening and walking, I’ve come to a realization that seems so simple. It’s a realization I keep trying to dig into further and find myself coming right back to its simple roots. Maybe this realization is a result of not knowing where else to start, given the all encompassing bleeding of humanity and creation. Or maybe it’s a result of 12 years of specialability parenting. Or maybe it’s just this simple.
What if we start with just our names and refuse to add any labels?
Stick with me here…
Meet Jackie. She’s black, lower-middle class, Baptist raised, feminist and a Democrat.
Now try this…
Meet Jackie. She find her worth through helping people and has struggled with self esteem since the 3rd grade. Her environment of choice is sitting by rivers and has a collection of rocks from every vacation she’s ever taken. She can talk about classic literature and quote movies until she’s blue in the face and recently decided to only purchase fair trade and sustainable products in her home.
Hypothetical Kate is all the things listed above. None of the labels in the first line are theoretically bad or good. But the labels attach bad or the good to her the very second they’re uttered. We all have different definitions of what’s bad, good or neutral. We all come from places of bias and judgement. But if we’re just our names, without lables, we have a fighting chance to be who we are and be seen and valued before the biases come into play. Don’t hear me saying that we can’t own our heritage or what we believe in. We just can’t define ourselves by it. Or allow others to. Removing labels allows people in and opens pathways for connection and universal commonalities. You can be black, lower-middle class, Baptist and collect rocks and you can be Muslim, non English speaking and affluent and collect rocks. And when we focus on the fact that those humans both collect rocks, there you have it. Commonality and connection first.
Removing labels won’t heal all our cracks or save the planet. That’s not my message. But I do believe firmly in the power of knowing eachother first and asking intentional questions in order to do so. Because label making (outside of the glorious tool that does wonders for home organization) is adding to the divides and oppression that’s becoming commonplace.
Can we all try to avoid labels for a week and see what sprouts?
Doesn’t seem impossible.