My roommate Hollee and I were sitting in those relatively comfy chairs in the front corner of Starbucks the other day, taking quizzes to find out which BTS member we are, when we came across a question that sent Hollee into this rant. The question was about what word your friends would use to describe you, and, while I didn’t think twice about this question, Hollee quickly declared she hated it.
“It’s just dumb because I’m several of these things,” she said. “I’m not accurately defined by just one characteristic.”
She continued on about how people are complex beings and how no one can be summed up by a single word or trait because that ignores so much of who they are. Then she started talking about how annoying it is when a character in a movie is constantly represented by a single characteristic, and there’s nothing more to their personality than that one thing. It may sound a little much for such a simple question with good intent, but she has an amazing point.
In society today, the labels someone acquires tell their peers who they are, and they begin to represent them as a person. Labeling people or judging them based on a few traits is basically second nature, and we almost can’t help but do it. But our labels will change throughout our lives, and some make a bigger impact on our personality than others. Some are small and change quickly or constantly, based on age, grade or maybe even hair color. Some last a little longer and affect a larger part of our lives, like social class, sexuality, religion and/or whether or not your parents are still married. With all the pressure around to label ourselves, it can be scary not to have everything clearly defined.
This urge to label people can lead to us dumbing someone down to one single aspect of them, and that’s a shame because people are all unique and complex. Labeling someone is like watering down their personality. People are made up of so many contradictions, and that’s what makes them beautiful. One of my teachers said something a few times in class that I think is so relevant and true. She said that people often recognize their own complexities, but ignore the complexity of others.
A friend of mine recently found out that his roommate is an avid Kanye West fan. Like not just a fan of his music, but a massive fan of Kanye as a person. This absolutely blew my friend’s mind. No kidding, he talked about it for 20 minutes straight. But at the end of the discussion he said he still respects his roommate. Although he doesn’t understand how or why his roommate can be such a passionate fan of a man who named his kids North and Saint, he still enjoys talking with his roomie and even called him a “real cool guy.”
That’s my point. Even though he doesn’t share all the same interests or opinions as his roommate, he can still be friends with him. He can still get to know and care for his roommate as a person.
One of my previous Bible teachers did a lecture similar to my point here. He was speaking specifically on sexuality, but it applies to every label. Essentially he said that someone’s sexuality does not define who they are — yes, it’s a part of their life and the person they are, but it’s not all they are. My point, too, is that you are so much more than one single part of you.
Don’t let your labels define you. And don’t let yourself use labels to define others. Be brave enough get to know people despite the labels they might embrace. If someone believes differently than you, that’s okay. In fact, that’s good. Friends should be diverse because it’s no fun to only interact with people who act and think like you do. Instead surround yourself with people who will challenge and teach you. Allow yourself to grow and change.
In the end, Hollee chose the word “funny” and I chose “energetic.” But we also recognized that she could easily have clicked on “intelligent,” and I could have said “awkward,” and it would still have been honest. Because we — as complex human beings — cannot be defined by one word.