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Life as Performance Art

    We see labels everywhere.  If we go into a grocery store we for labels so we know whether we are buying canned peaches or canned mystery meat.  Sometimes we read and compare labels of the ingredients to make certain we are eating something healthy. We want a label on a new shirt to let us know the size, fabric, and washing instructions.  And we certainly want labels on any medication we take.  In a sense, even road signs are labels, telling us what we can or cannot do,  or warning about ice on the bridges and where it is dangerous to pass.  Labels are so important that some of us still worry that if we remove the ‘do not remove’ tag on a pillow there will be a knock at the door from the Label Protection Police.
    An acquaintance has labels posted in her kitchen.  Even though she lives alone, albeit with several cats, the cupboard where the dishes are kept is labeled. So is the silverware drawer.  In the pantry there is a place for everything and everything is in its place, with a label.  I might be wrong, but I don’t think the cats are interested in this labeling business.
   As much as we need and use labels, it is easy to get too carried away with it That is especially true when it comes to people. Uniforms are a type of label It’s one thing to look for visual signal in a big box store that differentiates between employees and customers.   (That’s why I don’t use the self-service check-out lane. Someone might mistake me for a responsible adult who knows where I can find the canned lutefisk.) 
   To my way of thinking, when it comes to people, we need to be exceedingly  judicious in our use of labels. Not long ago a man wrote about his experiences at his company’s mandatory all day team-building meeting. Everyone was expected to identify themselves. It had to be much more than announcing, “Hi, I’m Joe from logistics.”  The participants were handed a cheat sheet with a substantial list of topics they were expected to use while talking.
    It went well beyond names and department. Each member was expected to label themselves with their preferred pronoun, label their sexuality well beyond male or female, ethnic background, political affiliation and who they voted for in the last election, their environmental activism, whether they were omnivores or vegans, religious preferences and make lots of apologies for having sufficient food to eat,  a place to live, and other ‘privileges’. They were expected to express some shame for their preference of the performing and visual arts, and how they regretted working at a company who was located on land once owned by indigenous people.
     The members went through this part of the three-day program, and then continued by giving some self-criticism about all of the social shortcomings and sins.  Meanwhile, the facilitators were busy taking notes on what everyone said, occasionally pointing out the differences between members of the group.  At the end of the session the members had to review and then answer a survey about the benefits of the session.  The survey was carefully written so the answers were guaranteed to be positive.
     I suspect that everyone picked up one or two things from each person’s self-labeling. Maybe they were things where they shared similarities. Far more likely, considering how prickly we have become, they picked up on one or two or more differences, and instantly decided that the two of them would never have anything in common.
     That’s not good for good relationships. If one person says they are re-reading Harry Potter for the 14th time and someone believes the author needs to be permanently shunned and cancelled because she has what someone considered to be the wrong ideas about human sexuality, that is going to put a strain on working together.  It might even get to the place where the Harry Potter devotee is called into Human Resources and told that because of their favorite reading they have created an unsafe atmosphere at work.
    That’s why I like labels, provided we don’t start attaching them to people.  Labels don’t belong on people. Period. Full stop.
     One serious problem with them is that the labels and their meanings continue to change. just ruled that it is a micro-aggression to use the word Latine instead of Latinx. The hyphen has been removed from anti-Semite to accommodate the softheaded thinking of those who find capitalizing Semite as offensive because they do not agree with Israel’s government.
     All in all, so far this year has added some 300 new words, mostly labels, the majority of which point out differences in race, politics, and gender.  They made an additional thousand plus changes of words still in existence.
     I don’t want to sound like a scold, but we had all better and use this information.  In Canada and England, the misuse of a label is sometimes a criminal offense.  A youngster in England sued because Mommy and Daddy called her by her “dead name”  instead of her new chosen gender-neutral name.  She won.  Papa got six months as a guest of his majesty. Here in this country, so far, at least.  it is grounds for being fired or socially cancelled.   And if you are talking about a group of people, you are now warned that it is no longer ‘folks’ but you must say ‘folkx’   so start practicing your ‘x’ pronunciation.
      As I just wrote, all too often labels are used to divide us,  and that cannot be a good thing.  I like the late Will Roger’s philosophy; it’s written on the pedestal of his statue in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol.  He often said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.”  Ironically, politicians on both sides of the aisle who can’t tolerate the presence of their opponents,  like to stand near that pedestal,  perhaps thinking their constituents will pick up on a subliminal message.
     I am sure that Will met many very dislikeable people in his life, perhaps had to work with them, but when it came to one on one relationships with others, he took quiet pride in always being able to find something likeable about another person.  A genuine smile and a handshake were about all it took for him to start an easy relationship with another person.  After that he and the other person started sharing their what was happening in their lives, common interests, and a “gag” as Will Rogers called a joke.
    That just seems like a far more sane and happy way to live, instead of obsessing over all sorts of labels and definitions. And instead of seeing any sort of social faux pas as an instant source of grave trauma, a polite and gentle correction works.  In fact, it works a lot better than sharing these minor grievances on social media.
    Life is just too short for looking for differences because the reality is, we have much more in common.  It’s a lot more fun, too.  The other morning I was standing in a check-out line behind a fellow about my age,  give a decade or two either way, who commented he was visiting this part of Michigan for the first time, and added that he was from Minnesota.  I told him I grew up in Rochester, and he said, “Say, I’ll bet you remember the good morning song on WCCO.”  I did, and we started singing it. All was fine until the woman behind the counter growled, “What’s with your old white male boomers?”
     Some people just can’t relax and have a bit of fun.

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