Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Labels belong on soup cans

When we label someone, either positively or negatively, it often places a burden on the labelee to either live up to the appellation, live it down, or try to escape the whole mess entirely by denying what is so patently not them.

Hell, i dont even like name tags.

Labels are meant to define things. They belong on packages, soup cans, and book covers, so we can tell what's inside. They set up expectations about the contents. People are not soup cans, and they are a hell of a lot more complex than a can of chicken noodle soup. Slapping a label on someone whittles him down to one or two things, and everything else hangs from that.

Call someone a senior citizen and suddenly our attitude toward them (and toward ourselves) changes. Senior now covers anyone over 50, and it allows younger people to smile kindly (nay, benevolently) at us, or diss us, because, as one charming young man online told me, "you too old for everything". It also sends a message to younger people that old age is just beyond the 49th birthday, and old means useless and senile. Subtle, but deadly. It also colors our own perceptions of ourselves. We are living longer, and living better, nutritionally and medically, than any other generation before. Yet the bar has been lowered so that over one third of our remaining life is under that dreadful appellation, "Senior".

My closest friend is 87. She is just starting to get acclimated enough to where she lives, now, to try some new things with her very extraordinary art. I told her, once, when I grow up, I want to be just like you. she laughed and said, so do I...

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