More Than a Label

“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.

Share in the comments.

revised from the archives

sharing at these linkups

15 thoughts on “More Than a Label

  1. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Miss Lisa, I LOVE this post, because how you remind me how often we (I!!!) label people, and most generally, it’s not complimentary. Labels ofttimes are presumptuous. Sometime, I’ll have to send you a “mini essay” I wrote to a blogger, because I had felt labeled. I was respectful, but I felt I couldn’t let his label stand, sans comment. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know my beliefs. He didn’t know my background. And he was wrong in presuming who he had thought I was. Plus, what made it so wrong, is that he was presumptive about what it means to be an Evangelical. Granted, the connotation seems to be changing (not especially for the better), but it’s a perfectly good word in its true meaning.

    Yet, I, too, have attached a broad label on those with whom I disagree. It’s not right, and it’s not fair. Yet, we (I!!!) do it, whether labeling people over their education status, neighborhoods, religion, ethnicity, and I could go on and on. We are complex beings, created in God’s image, and He has made each of us unique. Plus, we have no idea what personal background and experience have gone into shaping us. How often have I judged someone’s actions or opinions, without realizing the previous pain that he may have experienced?

    I also found this meaning insightful: [A label is] “a slip of paper, cloth, or other material, marked or inscribed, for attachment to something to indicate its manufacturer, nature, ownership, destination, etc.”

    In this case, I would welcome God’s label of me as a Christian or Christ-follower. I want to be known as a Christian, even though some may mock it, misunderstand it, or misinterpret it (especially if they have met sheep-in-wolves-clothing-professing “Christians”). I want this label and my life (my nature) to indicate ownership and “maker-ship” by my Creator and to emulate Christ. His nail-printed hands were marked by my sin, and so He has the right to inscribe His ownership over my life.

    And as for the “wheelchair man”? Wow! That struck home. After botched foot surgery, when I didn’t know if I would ever walk normally sans pain again (long story that went on for over a year), Michael would push me in a wheelchair when we were out. We went to a nice restaurant on afternoon, and the hostess looked straight over me, and talked *only* to Michael, as if I no longer existed. This happened more times than I care to recall when I sat in the wheelchair. It taught me a lesson, and I vowed to look into peoples’ eyes, at no matter what level I saw them ever since.

    Thank you for a wonderful, thoughtful post, as they always are! Love you!

  2. Jan

    This is a huge topic…but I like how you have slimmed it down into this one possibility of distinctions. Human beings will always tend towards categorizing people but indeed we must strive to look deeper. Even the pausing to look will be a step forward. Thk you for this post!

  3. ~ linda

    Labels do indeed place a description around a person, much of the time deceiving who those people are. Thanks for reminding me about ways to describe others we may or may not know. So much of the truth about a person is not transparent, very opaque. Thus labels are not welcome!

  4. Debbie Wilson

    “Once the gentleman starts talking and interacting with others around us, I see him as witty, as independent, as compassionate.” Lisa, your post reminds me of when Samuel went to anoint a king. He was attracted to the older brother. God told him humans look at the outside. God looks at the heart. May we look for the heart.

  5. Lois Flowers

    I love this, Lisa. “Labels are for file folders” has always been my variation on Martina’s quote at the beginning of your post. I saw this on a very personal level when I would watch people interact with my dad … he may have looked like a frail little old man, but when he spoke, his intelligence and wisdom always shone through. It’s especially comforting to think that Jesus tailors his dealings with each one of us, just for us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *