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Liberal, Conservative, Right-Wing: Do Labels Really Mean Anything?

MsCYPRAHDec 19, 2017, 12:05:50 PM
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As a Briton who has been interacting with Americans for some time, the first uncomfortable thing I noticed when I joined a few years ago was the way people are labelled immediately with political monikers.

Personally, I have never joined a political party. I have never given my affiliation to anything political; I tend to go for the person, rather than the stereotype when I vote, and for the actual policies and programmes. Yet the number of times I have been called a 'liberal' because of the topics I support bemuses me. I understand the roots of it now, as one gradually understands another culture, but I guess I will never get used to it, because the worst thing one can do to anyone is to label them without even knowing them.

The problem with labels, like 'conservative' and 'liberals' is that they leave little room for the individual or their uniqueness, while changing him/her into something generalised, superficial and without depth. Labels gradually come to stand for the person and their beliefs instead of being just one part of his/her perspective. Furthermore, the things we tell others, or ourselves, gradually come to represent who we are because words echo our thoughts, and thoughts dictate our life. If we keep telling ourselves that we are 'thieves', for example, we will soon start behaving like thieves, or expect others to behave that way too! So labels are not just empty words. They are the mirrors which reflect how we see others, how we treat them, and the actual respect we have for them.

Labels might give a clearer indication of where we stand on our view of life, at that point in time, but no matter what labels we carry to describe our political or religious leanings, we are still humans under that cover, capable of all kinds of contradictory feelings, beliefs, and emotions, especially in a crisis. Hence the main flaw with any kind of labelling: it simply reduces the person to a low denominator that suggests no capacity to think, or act, in any other way, except under a superficial, predictable title. Labelling immediately deprives someone of the right to go against that label, to use their initiative, or to behave in an unpredictable manner.


No matter what labels we carry to describe our political or religious leanings, we are still humans under that cover, capable of all kinds of contradictory feelings, beliefs, and emotions, especially in a crisis.



Constructive Communication

Some time ago, psychologist Robert Bolton wrote a brilliant book on communication, People Skills (1979), where he noted that most of our problems arise simply because we cannot communicate well enough to allow people to understand, appreciate, and respect us. 

For example, we are often not aware of the 'roadblocks' we set up when we speak to others through labelling and judging them. We feel we need to give people labels but, "in so doing, we cease to see the person before us, only a type". He thinks this is rarely constructive as it merely "represents an affront to the other person's intelligence".

Many people discount what others might say if they are from the 'opposition'. But for someone to dismiss what anyone says simply because of their political hue, instead of noting its relevance and contribution to any debate, shows a paucity of intellect and common sense. No one is all bad or all good based on a label. So the more we regard labels in their true contexts - like broad brushstrokes than the finer details - the more we'll appreciate the individual, the rich tapestry they weave, and where they're coming from; the more we'll be able to see that nothing is ever just black and white, right wing or left wing, liberal or conservative! That we can actually be all of those things if the moment dictates.



That's the beauty of being human. No matter what we gravitate towards to reflect our values, we transcend all labels, especially when anything becomes life threatening to us or our dear ones.

I would regard myself as firmly in the centre. Yet there are times when my views can be as extreme as any right wing person, or as liberal as any left winger, depending on the issue involved, its effect on my life, and my degree of commitment to it. That's the beauty of being human. No matter what we gravitate towards to reflect our values, we transcend all labels, especially when anything becomes life threatening to us, or our dear ones.

Britons tend to baulk at anything that smacks of labelling, especially as our political affiliations tend to be very private until we cast our ballot. Most of us dislike labels intensely because, having lived through two brutal World Wars, we soon learnt the importance of being united as Britons in order to save our country, than to be divisive and weakened, under one one petty label or another, and being utterly crushed in the process.

Labels are fine for specific events, to emphasise a point, or to galvanise support. In effect, for static things, rather than diverse, multilayered, evolving people.

Author: The Essential Guide to Confidence

Follow Ms Cyprah: @ESiheraESC

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