Defying Labels in Favor of Our True Selves

Being a writer, I pay attention to words a lot and I think how we say things is important.  One area I’ve especially been sensitive to is that of labeling ourselves and talking about who we are.  A few years ago my Dad pointed out that we are human beings, not human doings.  This has always seemed an important distinction to me and is a lesson that has been repeated by many wise people: who we are is more important than what we do.

A very strange phenomenon has taken over our present age: we are defined by what we do or uncontrollable conditions, rather than who we are.  As far as I can tell, this problem is perpetuated by the inadequacies of the English language.

This was brought to my attention when we talked about person first language in one of my social work classes.  We tend to label people, such as, he is handicapped, she is blind, etc.  My teacher pointed out that it is much more respectful to say something like, a person with a disability.  You might roll your eyes and chalk this up to political correctness, but stay with me for a little longer.  Really think about what I’m saying.  We say someone is handicapped, we are saying that handicap is what defines that person.  We are people, first, with equal natural dignity based solely on that fact.  So in this case, the problem is that people are defined by an uncontrollable condition.  I’d like to connect this with how we think of people with homosexual tendencies (see what I did there?)

We are in the habit of saying he/she is gay.  Speaking this way defines a person completely based on which gender he/she is sexually attracted to.  As soon as we label people as “gay” we make all kinds of assumptions about them.  It works the opposite way too – we label people with certain characteristics as “gay.”  This seems like a major problem to me and undermines the human dignity inherent in all people.  C’mon people, aren’t we hip youngsters supposed to defy labels?? (Secretly we can’t survive without them).

Another area that I think this problem comes into play is the discussion of men’s and women’s roles.  When people advocate for equality between the sexes, they often discuss the fact that women should be able to do the same things as men.  They don’t realize that the problem is deeper than this and the solution lies at the root of who we are.  We need to ensure that the human dignity and freedom of all people is equally respected.  As I have discussed before, true freedom is found in being who you are, not in the things you do.  Although people don’t want to hear it, we really need to be discussing how to help men and women be true to their natures, not what each sex should or should not be doing.

I’m continually trying to recenter my focus on who I am, not what I do.  For example, I’ll ask God who he wants me to become, not what he wants me to do.  And in everything I do, I discern how it is helping me become the person God is calling me to be.

When God is asked who he is his answer is simply “I AM.”  In tomorrow’s gospel reading from John, the crowd asks Jesus to perform a miracle; instead he tells them who he is: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Motel of Misspellings

Yesterday morning I sat down to enjoy breakfast at the hotel I stayed at for the weekend. When I grabbed the syrup for my waffle the perfect peace was shattered.  Behind the regular syrup that I picked up was a container of sugar free syrup that the hotel staff was considerate enough to put out for their residents with health concerns.  This well meaning display was destroyed by the atrocious spelling that told me it was sugEr free syrup.  I was flabbergasted; absolutely and completely speechless.

After the syrup nearly gave me a heart attack, I decided to risk taking a peek at the other various condiments on the table.  I thought there was no way they could mess up salt and pepper.  I was very, very wrong.  To my horror what I thought to be pepper turned out to be pApper.  Declaring that I could no longer stay in the presence of such obvious spelling errors, I abruptly left the room.  Only because I am a dedicated blogger did I return to the scene to take a picture of these atrocities.

I couldn’t help but think that this was a frightening sign of where our society is heading.  The attention paid to the importance of correct spelling and grammar is going downhill fast.  This hotel is only a snapshot of what is happening all over our country.  I blame spell check.  There is no longer a need to know how to spell.  That handy little tool in Word will tell you with a helpful red line that you have made a mistake and help you fix it.  With America’s overwhelming use of computers, the few times we do handwrite things we stumble over spellings and commit simple errors.

I suppose the average person really does not care too much about spelling and grammar.  I believe it is a comment on a company though, such as this hotel, if there are misspellings in its public signs and labels.  For me, it says that the company is sloppy or just too cheap to hire a proofreader.

As I left this motel of misspellings I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of its name:  The Quality Inn.  The hotel itself was perfectly fine, but the quality of its spelling was, well, not of such high quality.