Labeling is something that many people do, but few think much about the impact it has on their feelings. Labeling occurs when a negative term is applied to another person when that person does something negative to someone else. For example, if you are sitting in your car and someone pulls out in front of you and speeds away, you might think to yourself, “That person is mean for doing that,” or “that person is hateful.” By thinking that the person who cut you off in traffic is mean and/or hateful is ascribing a “label” on that person without knowing the facts of why that person behaved the way they did. In other words, Labeling is just another way of jumping to conclusions, as was explained in the last post. Labeling is dangerous because sticking a negative term or trait onto another person can cause angry and hostile feelings toward that person, which are not thoughts or feelings a Christian is supposed to have.
Christians are supposed to always seek the good in everyone. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” By ascribing negative labels onto other people, we diminish their value in our minds, and make it easier to forget that no matter what someone does, we should love them. We can disagree with people’s choices and beliefs, but we should always treat them with love. If Christians resort to treating others like some others treat Christians, then the world would be a sad place to live in! “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:” (1 Peter 1:22).
I saw a lot of “labeling” among my teenage clients. When I graduated from school and went onto graduate college and so forth, I forgot how the high school social network consists of many, many labels. Most children fall into one or more social categories. For example, when I was in high school, you had the “popular” kids, the “athletes, “ the “gothic” kids, and so forth. It makes things less complicated to attach a label to something, and we learn this habit very young. I remember one of my teen clients talk about having a crush on another teen who he thought was “too good” for him. He thought this because she was “popular,” and he was not. I asked him why he thought that the girl would not like him just because he wasn’t popular. He said that she “would think I’m not good enough for her.” This is a form of labeling in that my client believed that the girl he liked would not like him back solely because she had the label “popular” attached to her. I encouraged him to attempt to be friendly toward this girl and see if she responds in a nice way. He came back for another session and told me that he had made contact with the girl he liked, and she seemed to be friendly. I encouraged him to continue to talk to her and not focus on the “popular” label that he and his classmates had given her. I told him that people are much more than the labels (whether negative or positive) that are ascribed to them. I hope that this client learned that every person is different, and you cannot group all people together and expect them to all act the same.
Not all labels are negative and some labels are made with a full understanding of who a person is. The labels I mentioned above were made without fully knowing a person. Labels can also be ascribed to a person, and it would be the truth. The Bible uses labels to describe good and evil. Ascribing a label onto someone after knowing them is understandable, but we should always love that person no matter what. For example, if a person continually mistreats others, he or she can be labeled as “mean” or “unkind,” and it would be true. We should love a person who is truly “mean,” but not agree with his or her actions. Labels become a problem when they are pinned on a person without knowing them or if it causes that person to be mistreated or ignored.
Labeling can also occur in the church. This is often the case with erring members. Members who have attended church in the past, but either no longer attend or attend infrequently are often categorized as an erring member. Now, this is not a negative label because it is true that a person who forsakes the assembly is not a faithful Christian by any means. My concern however, is that once a person is considered an “erring member,” some leaders of the church fail to make sufficient attempts to bring this lost sheep back to the fold. Sometimes, faithful Christians let erring members fall through the cracks and do not try to encourage them to attend services again. In this case, labeling can be a problem in the church. It is always good for Christians to call, send cards or visit those who have forsaken the assembly. Treat them as you would a person who is physically sick, because they are spiritually sick. As Matthew 18, verses 15-17 state: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
In conclusion, giving labels to others can be dangerous because it can cause Christians to “write off” people into certain categories that may not actually be true to their character. Every person was created by God, and every person is unique. We should try to get to know others as individuals rather than as what we think they should be.