Is it Really so Important to Label Ourselves and Others?

My four-mile saunter today wasn’t quite as exciting or as heartening as yesterday’s. The pack weight was the same, the distance the same, but various parts of me ached at different times. (I haven’t been able figure out how to stop the slight chafing of the shoulder strap, but it’s possible it’s a design defect of the pack since it was mentioned in at least one review.) Still, I met the challenge. And the whole experience was fabulous in its own way.

Although I might be sore, and I might be staggering a bit after all that effort (I have a hunch I didn’t eat enough yesterday), my mind is at rest.

It’s always a joy getting away from the city, even if my “wilderness” is just the expanse of desert beyond the neighborhood. Out there, by myself, there are no labels. There is just me, whatever that might be.

I sometimes call myself a writer but only when it pertains to my books. I don’t call myself a blogger even though I blog more than write. I don’t call myself a hiker even though I hike more than blog. I don’t call myself a dancer even though I dance more than hike. And I don’t call myself a sleeper even though I sleep more than all of those activities put together.

Most especially, in today’s world where gender is such a hot topic, I don’t bother to place myself anywhere on the gender spectrum, nor do I place myself anywhere on the political spectrum.

I am.

What more do I need?

What more do you need?

Is it really so important to label ourselves and others?

I’ve been deleting “labelers” from my Facebook page, even those I’ve kept because I thought it diplomatic not to delete them during past purges, but I am tired of all the labels we slap on others. Ists and isms. Gender classifications. Political views and identity politics.

Even if people deserve being called racist or sexist or ageist or bigot or anything else, why say it? Labeling makes us feel superior because we, of course, are none of those things. Labeling puts people in what we feel is their place, and keeps us from seeing their greater (or lesser) truth.

One thing that grief taught me is that we are all works in progress, even those we dislike or those who anger us. We are all on our own personal Ferris wheel, filling every one of the buckets, but the wheel keeps turning and so all the buckets are us at various moments during the day, at various times during our lives. It’s only when someone dies that the Ferris wheel stops, allowing us (perhaps) to see each of their many parts. By labeling a person, you put a spoke in their Ferris wheel as relates to you, stopping it at that particular view of the person. You never see all the rest of the buckets. Never see that beyond your label, the wheel keeps turning.

I tried to explain this to a friend who insists that I am opinionated, though I do not think I am arrogantly and conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in my opinions. (Which is the definition of opinionated.) And every time she tells me I am opinionated, she uses the same example, “You don’t just say ‘I don’t like Meryl Streep,’ like other people do, you say, ‘I hate her.’” Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I ever thought about the actress, can’t remember the last time I spoke her name, can’t remember the last time I saw one of her movies, but apparently, years ago when we were discussing movies and she was extolling Streep’s virtues, I said I hated the actress. And forever after, in my friend’s mind, that proves I am opinionated.

(As an aside, I told her that the one-time friend who called me contrary was perhaps the most contrary person I ever met. The person who called me negative was so negative I could barely handle being in her presence. Before I could suggest that this friend turn the opinionated finger to herself, she said, “I can see where this is going.”)

So, here’s a thought. What would happen if everyone stopped labeling everyone else? Calling someone racist ignores all the blatantly unracist things the person does. Calling someone leftist ignores . . . etc, etc, etc. But even if they were consistently racist (or whatever label you put on them), why say it? It might not make the world a better place if we stopped the labels, but it sure would make Facebook a much more pleasant place to hang out.

Meantime, there is always the desert, where there are no labels. Just sand and wind and sun and me.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

“If I could invent one thing to make the world a better place . . .”

Google is running a doodle contest for young artists — “If I could invent one thing to make the world a better place . . .” Of course, since it’s a Google contest, the doodle needs to incorporate their logo, which seems oxymoronic. What does Google have to do with the world? Google certainly doesn’t make the world a better place, it just makes online life easier to navigate, which makes me wonder if Google thinks the internet is actually “the world.”

peaceIt seems to me that the real, offline world works fine just the way it is. Earth spins on its axis, travels around the sun, and hurtles through space in an orderly manner. The sun comes up in the east every morning and sets in the west every evening. (Well, no, the sun doesn’t actually rise and set except from our perspective. To the earth’s perspective, the sun is always “up.”)

There are deserts and rain forests, mountains and oceans, lakes and rivers galore, which all make the world a wonderful place. The soil is fertile (or would be if we didn’t over use it) and water is plentiful. Skies are blue when the sun is shining, and vivid reds and oranges when it sets. Sometimes, there is even a flash of green in the tropical sky or vast waves of colors in the northern hemisphere.

Can anything invented by a human make any of this better? If humans really wanted to invent something that would make the world a better place, they would have to invent something that removed humans from the world. The world exists just fine without us. It is we who need the world. There is a story about a Native American shaman who almost forgave the white men for the terrible problems they brought because they also brought horses, and horses make the landscape more beautiful. Has anyone ever said that humans out in the open make the landscape more beautiful? (I’m talking bodies here, not gardens.)

I admit I’m being picky. I presume Google’s contest is about inventing something to make the human situation better, and even then, I don’t know if there is anything we could invent that would make our world a better place. I don’t know if there ever has been anything . . . well, except for indoor plumbing and toilet paper. Energy that doesn’t destroy the earth has already been invented (or discovered, rather.) There are ways of pulling energy right from the earth, but the problem is the energy purveyors have yet to figure out how to make money off such energy. There would be no wires or conduits, no meters, just a simple and inexpensive piece of equipment, similar to a small television satellite dish.

It would be nice if someone could invent a pain pill that actually worked, that had no side effects, and wasn’t addictive, but if someone invented ways of preventing pain and ill health and death, the earth would soon be so overrun with humans, someone need to invent something that would gradually remove humans from the world.

It’s a good thing I don’t have to invent anything that would make the world a better place, because I wouldn’t. All that the major inventions did was allow for bigger buildings, more genetically modified food, more vehicles, more incursions into once isolated lands, and in the end, more humans. What would make the world a better place is if people were kinder to each other, but that’s not something we can invent. All we need to do is do it. So today, be kind to someone and make the world a better place.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What words would you like to leave the world when you are gone?

I’ll be leaving the world my books, which are words enough, but besides that, this is how I’d like the world to see me:  “Pat Bertram has a marvelous ability to write the longest parables in all of literature. She unglues the world as it is perceived and rebuilds it in a wiser and more beautiful way.” — Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday.

Here are some other authors’ responses to the question of what words they would like to leave the world when they are gone. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Jim Magwood, Author of “The Lesser Evil”

Some goals are so worthy that even to fail is glorious.

From an interview with June Bourgo, Author of Winter’s Captive

Hmm…my writing career has come late in life for me. I have been a late bloomer with many things in my life. So I guess I would say: You’re never too old to follow your dreams and accomplish your goals. I don’t mind getting older, if I have followed my dreams. But I don’t want to get old and have regrets.

From an interview with Charlie Kenmore, author of “Earth Angel”

“There’s been a mistake.”

From an interview with Cynthia Vespia, author of “Demon Hunter: Saga”

Wow, that’s huge. I don’t know about words but I’d like to know that I made the world a better place for somebody just by being there for them. My words have always been “Live Your Dreams” Because life is short and dreams shouldn’t be dashed.

From an interview with Linda Nance, author of Journey Home

I tried…I really did and I did not give up.

So, what words would you like to leave the world when you are gone?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire http://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ and follow the instruction.)