There are two types of labels that people use to describe themselves: accidental and essential properties (footnote to Aristotle*). I find these fascinating as I peruse ‘about me’ profiles throughout the Internet.
The perceived essential properties always jump out at me, because these are the things that people think are really important about them. I am composed of nothing but accidental properties. So I’m intrigued when I see people define themselves by something at all, let alone so easily.
I’ll give an example:
Mary meets Chris. Mary says, “hi, I’m Mary. I’m a ballet dancer.”
Compare this to:
Christ meets Mary. Chris says, “hey, I’m Chris. I suppose I, too, am a ballet dancer.”
The difference is in both the tone and the content. In the first example, Mary believes that– in order to know who she is as a person– you have to be aware of what ballet dancers are like. In the second example, though Chris is also a ballet dancer, he sees this as something that is non-essential to him as a person. In other words Mary is a ballet dancer, Chris does ballet dancing.
People like Chris attach labels to themselves because they’re so used to labels being bandied about that they immediately resort to labeling themselves as well to facilitate communication. These people are never truly comfortable with them and sometimes even rebel at the idea.
People like Mary wear their labels with pride and perceive the world through those labels. They usually perceive the label as something bigger than them that they can be a part of. They also seek out a community of like-minded people with whom they can speak. If these labels are ever stripped away, they have an existential crisis. For example, if Mary was proud to be Irish and later found out that she was actually Scottish, it might affect her pride at her Irish flag tattoo (it’s on her buttocks).
Now, there’s nothing wrong with labels, per se, they’re just things to watch out for. It’s always dangerous when you begin to identify yourself by something that is outside of your control. Not just because it breaks you down into your component parts, uses, talents, positions and beliefs, but also because it inevitably leads to a flawed assessment of your self worth and place in the world.
Just two cents from a guy who happens to write a blog… 🙂