Labels keep us away from what we do not want. They are attractive; they draw us in. But then they give us information. “Partially hydrogenated oil?” Forget it. “Enriched flour?” Nope. “Whole grain?” Yes! “Scented?” Depends on the scent. “Fair Trade Certified?” Yes, please. How many carbs? How much fat? What is the caloric amount? What about allergens? If a label gives us certain information, we cast it aside.
Sometimes, the label can save us the time of actually having to look for information. Some may be turned off by store brands. Just seeing “Sam’s Choice” or “Great Value” on a box of something is enough to turn many customers away. On the other hand, many may not be able to afford a package of Starbucks coffee, so the store brand ground coffee will have to do.
We see a label, we make a decision.
Appropriate for shopping; terrible for relationships.
I am teaching at FaithWorks of Abilene now. We work with unemployed and underemployed individuals who are seeking advancement in life through better occupations.
And my students have had lots of labels put on them:
These labels may even have some truth to them. But they fall far short of telling the stories of the people in my class.
Where society at large sees a convicted felon, I see an individual making daily decisions to be the best parent they can be.
Where society sees someone who has a limited work history, I see an individual learning new skills to become more marketable.
Where society see someone in so much pain they struggle to make it through the day, I see an individual fighting, clawing, and crawling their way through each and every day (and then I get to see their classmates pick them up and walk with them).
Too often, labels are applied to people and time is not taken to learn about the person.
Skin color, clothing style, bumper stickers, music choice, are all often used as a way to say, “I know all there is to know about you because of that label.”
Labels may give some information, but they cannot tell the whole story. And when we use labels to exclude people from our lives, we are the ones in the wrong.
Jesus did not see labels; He saw people. He did not see people as Jew or Samaritan or Gentile; He saw them as children of God. He did not allow the appearance of leprosy or sickness to keep Him from touching people. He saw beyond they physical distinction of male and female and loved everyone as children of God.
We slap labels on everyone and then arrogantly assume we know everything about that person. (I discussed that in more detail in my last post.) When we do that, we are no longer seeing people. Instead, we are seeing individuals through our biased, discriminatory eyes.
This class has chosen the name “Overcomers.” They have overcome quite a lot in their lives. Once they graduate, they will be ready to enter the workforce. Unfortunately, some people will not overlook the labels. That saddens me. But I believe they will overcome that, as well. Because they know they are more than their label. They are learning who they are and what they can do.
And what a blessing they will be to those people who look beyond the label to see the person.