Labels: Help or Hindrance?

Labels: Help or Hindrance?- I wrote a blog for Action for Blind People recently about registering sight loss and whether it was a label. It got me thinking more broadly about the labels we are given and the labels we give to others.

We are all aware of negative labels from an early age. ‘The one to avoid’, ‘the uncool kid’ or ‘the swot’. Clearly, these labels are going to do nothing for a person’s confidence or happiness. Yet, not all labels are negative. ‘The sporty one’, ‘the pretty one’ or ‘the academically gifted one’ are examples of seemingly positive labels. However, they may not be good labels either as they can serve to put unnecessary pressure on people.

As we grow up labels don’t disappear, but is there a danger we can become our label? If you label someone ‘depressed’ are they likely to become more depressed? If you label someone as being a ‘trouble maker’ will they continue making trouble? In other words, does labelling someone promote them to live up to the label?

Perhaps in some cases we can’t avoid labelling and labelling may even be helpful, but we should do so with caution. A friend recently told me that since her son has been diagnosed with ADHD he is receiving better support in school and she is getting more help as his Mum. She says she thought long and hard about the negative connotations of giving her son this label, but it has improved things.

We need to keep in mind that a label does not need to define us. People labelled as an addict can beat their addiction, people labelled obese can lose weight and people labelled as disabled can exceed expectations. I think expectations is the critical factor in this debate. Our expectations should not be created based on what others may choose to call us. The danger is that labelling categorises people and we are all so individual that one part of us is not sufficient to make us part of a predetermined category.

I know a lot of people struggle with being labelled disabled. For many it sums up negative connotations. I have come to the conclusion that a label can be a help and a hindrance at different times. I embrace it when it helps me to get support I am entitled to which will make my life a bit easier and I challenge it when it strays into being a hindrance. I can’t challenge it by becoming less blind but I can challenge it by going beyond what lots of people think blindness is. I’ve come to the conclusion that labels will probably always exist but a label is not a precursor for how we should behave or what we should do with our lives. We can beat the label by being ourselves and not being the stereotype associated with the label.

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