“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.”
– Martina Navratilova
I see him in the corner, this scruffy man with long hair in his wheelchair. And I label him as “the man in the wheelchair.” I automatically have a stereotype to squeeze him into.
That’s how prejudices work. I have friends I introduce as “the sweet one” or “the sports fanatic” or “the health nut.”
But who wants to be a label, even if it’s a good one?
To be labeled “paraplegic” or “old” or “diabetic” or “smart” describes only one dimension of a complex human being.
I like how Jesus saw people as unique. Even in his healings, he didn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach.
- He touched the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30-31).
- He touched the eyes of two blind men in Capernaum (Matthew 9:29-30).
- He put his fingers in the deaf man’s ear in Decapolis and after spitting, touched his tongue (Mark 7:33).
- He spit on the eyes of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:23).
- He made mud for the blind man’s eyes in Jerusalem (John 9:6-7).
- And he laid hands on many others.
I’m sure he would have seen the man in the wheelchair as much more than “the man in the wheelchair.”
I finally do, too. Once the gentleman starts talking and interacting with others around us, I see him as witty, as independent, as compassionate. There is no stereotype for people in wheelchairs any more than there is a stereotype for people out of them.
Typically when we try to overcome prejudice we look for similarities to help us shed the stereotypes.
But what if we do the opposite? What if we look for distinctions instead?
We all are distinct, but we are not our distinctions.
I want to notice the differences that make you uniquely you.
You are not a label. Neither am I.
We are more. Much more.
revised from the archives
- Are You Giving Up Something for Lent? Or Adding Something In?
- My One Word Update for March