Are Labels really Necessary?

There has been a lot of emphasis on labels, their usefulness and the question, “Are they really necessary?”,  on our discussion board and it seemed good to me to submit this response as a short article by Derek Ward . (Tariki)

Joseph Mattioli (TCPC Moderator/Admin)

Are  Labels really Necessary?

post by Derek Ward (alias Tariki)

I was just roaming around and took a look in. Spotted this particular thread. The idea of “labels”, their uses/abuses/limits etc seems to me to point to the fundamental uses of language and the limit of words. Is the word the thing? Lets mention something like sexuality, just to catch everyones attention! In a very real sense there is in nature, an unbroken line of continuity between the world’s most macho male and the world’s most effeminate female, physically, psychologically. Each of us finds ourself somewhere on that line, each of us unique, valuable, irreplaceable. Yet our minds love to label and classify. We create fences, lines and divisions. Judgement follows. Often we even seem to like labeling ourselves and take great pride in doing so. And so our “becoming” and our possibilities can grind to a stop and we congeal.

When we look at and meet another, and we have heard they are “gay”, or “Christian” – or whatever – we see only our own experience and understanding of such words. Possibly our label meets theirs! We can miss the actual person altogether, including ourselves! All chance of genuine empathy and mutual understanding can just wither and die.

It seems to me that “reality” lies beyond words. Words have their uses, but also their limits.

Expanding on this a bit, it seems to me that “labels” always have their own context, and when the context is lost then things get out of focus. Our minds act like a microscope. Looking at Christianity, which seems appropriate here, there is Catholocism, the Eastern Orthodox, the various Protestant varieties……and adjusting the microscope, within Catholocism, “liberals” and “moderns” and traditionalists”…..Cistercians, Benedictines, Trappists…….and mystics, ancient and modern……then onto the individual hearts and minds experiencing the reality of their faith according to their own lives as lived and experienced themselves, as it has unfolded uniquely for them. It just seems that if we lose the context our minds then can get out of focus, and we throw words and labels over something or somebody and we lose empathy and communion with them, divided by assumed judgements.

And I would like to repeat that we can miss the actual person altogether, Giving a label to ourselves can create false parameters that eventually stifle the “spirit”. I try to wear my wn lightly! Just to finish…..(gasps of relief all round!)….there is a relevant passage from the Journals of Thomas Merton regarding “labels” and whatnot. Merton tells of how he was visited by a good friend, Mark Van Doren, and they were watching the flight and activities of some birds together. Mark Van Doren remarked….”The birds don’t know they have names.” Merton went on to
write in his journal no name and no word to identify the beauty and reality of those birds today is a gift of God to me in letting me see them…….And that name – God – is not a name! It is like a letter X or Y.

Yahweh is a better name – it finally means Nameless One


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