Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Types and Stereotypes

I've had two brushes with the concept of labels this past week.

Labels: adjectives that give descriptions, whether direct or implied, are used and misused in our language daily. The first conversation centered around the Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs personality profile. It's hard enough to know that others think and act differently than I; having to live with them is a another story. With the Enneagram people are assigned a number from one to nine, characterized according to their personality's dark side. It's an interesting twist. It has helped me to study the various numbers of the sisters I deal with daily, and knowing my own number has been amazingly humbling and enlightening. But one person in the group didn't believe in labels. She felt that labels divide people, focusing on their differences rather than their similarities. A good point.

But that is the point, right? We are different. We don't like that. (We don't like it when we're all the same either, but that's neither here nor there.) If I'm neat and you're messy, there's a problem if we inhabit the same space. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm a neatnik and you're a slob, although it could. Labeling you a slob won't help our relationship. But understanding that you don't notice the paper clips on the carpet might.

The next concept of labels came from the sermon given at the ordination the other day. The preacher threw out four words: fundamentalist, evangelical, conservative and liberal. With great skill and humor he defined each one with a new spin and in so doing, convinced us that these were all admirable adjectives to describe our life in Christ.

If a label stereotypes a person and stashes them into a neat little box, then it is difinitely devisive. If, however, it explains a type and a subsequent behavior in a way that creates compassionate understanding, then the description is worth its weight in adverbs.


Pat said...

Thank you for this. There's a small bit of conversation going on at another blog…
about language - words as labels. I was getting bogged down in my thinking (easily done these days) and your distinction between labelling and understanding helped clear things.

kpjara said...

I always SAY I hate labels...but I'm the first to confess my choleric-melancholy-ness by way of helping others understand me a bit better.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good thoughts. I'm CG's cousin and got turned on to your blog by her sister. You're the quiet one, right?

Claire Joy said...

on my good days... but you know it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for.