In a recent post, I argued that labels can create a sense of community — and are therefore beneficial in some ways. Stereotypes, on the other hand, are problematic, because they restrict how we behave (girls have to be feminine, boys must like sports, etc.).
I’m a firm believer in questioning my opinions on a regular basis — and re-thinking them, if need be. The following is a quote from writer and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, who most definitely disagrees with me on labels:
Krishnamurti argues that in order to understand humanity, we need to stop labeling ourselves and each other. He makes a powerful point: conflicts begin with an us versus them mentality, when we separate ourselves from “the other.” This otherness can take the form of a different religion, nationality, gender, or race — it was exactly this mentality, according to thinker Edward Saïd, that led Americans to separate themselves from the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks. The same can be said about Hitler’s treatment of Jews in WWII.
In literature, readers of Joseph Conrad’s novel The Heart of Darkness often analyze the juxtaposition of self and other in Marlow’s journey of self-discovery (in fact, most literary representations like this require binary opposites).
Does this mean that all labels are inherently evil and bad? Krishnamurti thinks so. He draws a direct line from labels to separation to violence. Instead of seeing the world as us versus them, he urges us to see it as a collective “us” in order to better understand humanity.
But is Krishnamurti right? Do labels encourage separation, and therefore violence, or are they less powerful than he thought? What do you think?
New to the Ruminations series? These posts are short musings on various quotes, music, literature, etc., intended to start conversations. You can check out the first Ruminations post here.