I Won’t Label You; You Won’t Negate Me – UPDATED

Continuing what has become and an unintended pattern, I continue with my every-other-week-Apocalypse, exclusively at First Things!

Two weeks ago, I was saying, “We will have to become, ourselves, the reality we want to see. . .Let us begin, finally, to understand the true meaning of apocalypse by becoming it—not destruction and mayhem but revelation, as in the revelation of Christ to each other—in these strange and transitional days.”

This week, I am surprising even myself with the starkness of this thing:

I want to love, again.

Youth cannot be reclaimed, and I would not want to, but increasingly I feel a need—a calling, perhaps—to find a way to reach back and recapture one aspect of my youth: a willingness to be a little naive, to take people as they are, rather than as I believe I can classify them. It was how I lived before I became very engaged with politics and religion and chose labeling over loving.

Dorothy Day famously said to her Catholic Worker friends and followers, “Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
Well, the thing is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, now, but I think what Day had in mind was something along the lines of Søren Kierkegaard’s “When you label me, you negate me.”

When we label anyone, we immediately do them an injustice—even if the label seems accurate. We shortchange their story. We open them up to caricature and to the misunderstanding that comes with it. Labels reduce all of our complexities and beautiful human nuances into easily negated “types” and turn our efforts to communicate with each other into punchlines. Or outright swipes.

I wish I could say that in my online writing I have managed to resist the temptation to label others and thus turn them into discredited, ghostly cartoons that have little to do with their human realities, but alas, I have trod that path all too happily, only stepping off it when one of my sons challenged me to define the “thems” and “theys” of my rants. I could not, of course, but in making the attempt I discovered how readily—even eagerly—I had been discounting human beings about whom I actually knew nothing, and that my pre-judging of them meant that I was, yes, prejudiced.

Mindful of that humiliating lesson, I have been trying to break that habit of broad denunciation; I have come to detest words like “progressive” and “liberal” and “conservative” and “lefty” and “right-winger” and the ease with which we throw these divisive labels about for the express purpose of insta-discrediting one another. Our propensity to label-and-dismiss each other is quickly leading our nation and our Church toward dangerous cliffs, and though we have gleefully turned each other into cartoons, we will not be able to reclaim solid ground from the thin air, once we’re launched. I accuse myself of assisting in this careening madness, and I want off.

You can read the rest, here.

I have no intention of shutting up. When I see double-standards and media malpractice I’ll call it out, and loudly. But…” I will forego the expedient labeling that permits others to wink and nudge and roll eyes at someone and therefore negate them.”

I don’t see any other way for us to move forward, without taking this very fundamental step.

I’m surprised at what I wrote, mostly because of the timing, but in truth it’s been coming on for a while. The Divine Office changes us, slowly, slowly. It’s a free-fall, in slow-mo.

Cryptically related:
Peter Kreeft: If Good and Evil Exist, God Exists (H/T)

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Subsistent

    Yes; but at the same time, sometimes a person VALUES a certain label applied to self. Toward the end of her life, Teresa of Avila, I think I read somewhere, said, “At last! I’m a Catholic!” And Jacques Maritain once hoped to become sort of “a Jew by adoption”. And Jean-Paul Richter related, “I was looking out … toward the wood-pile, when it hit me like a lightning bolt: ‘I am a me, je suis un je’: a thought which has never left me. I perceived my self for the first time, and for good.”

    [The point is not that "labels" are inherently bad. It is that we're using them as a means of discrediting people into caricature -- shutting them up by saying, "oh, this person is a lefty, or a righty and therefore they're (negative, negative, negative) and so their considerations are immediately discredited. We have to stop it. -admin]

  • YouGoAnchoress

    Yesterday my second grader told me that she has mentally divided up her class between those who like Obama and those who don’t. (Yikes!) It was a real wake-up call and made me a little bit ashamed. Obviously, children see things in very simplistic terms, but it made me realize that, like you, I need to step back from all this divisive labeling and instead listen to the Spirit.

  • Fiestamom

    @yougoanchoress Maybe your daughter did that with her classmates because of the culture,her teachers, and not because of you? I agree with the premise of THE Anchores’ post here, but don’t blame yourself totally. Obama and the media’s entire M.O. since 2008 is to divide (and conquer) our nation. Of course it’s going to trickle down to children…by design.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    As a proud wingnut ;), I answered you with this over at First things:

    Sounds like a false choice to me. We all need to catagorize things, especially ideas. It creates a context. But that doesn’t mean I don’t treat the person with respect or individuality. I love my neighbor no matter their label. I have plenty of friends who are “lefties.” And if someone labels me, then it’s something artificial that I can transcend over if I so wish. I don’t feel constrained.

    [Manny, the point isn't that using labels is "inherently" bad. They are often a sad necessity. But they're destructive when we use them -- as we all do, sometimes -- to discredit another, get others to ignore their viewpoint b/c they're "just one of them" and so forth. It's hurting us. -admin]

  • https://foothills.wjduquette.com/blog Will Duquette

    Sounds like what you’re talking about is tribal labels, rather than labels as such.

  • Manny

    “Manny, the point isn’t that using labels is “inherently” bad. They are often a sad necessity. But they’re destructive when we use them — as we all do, sometimes — to discredit another, get others to ignore their viewpoint b/c they’re “just one of them” and so forth. It’s hurting us. -admin”

    Oh yes I agree with that. But that is poor debating skills. It’s close to an ad hominen attack or if not quite that perhaps (and I had to look through the list of fallacies) a fallacy of faulty generalization.

  • Manny

    You know, perhaps I over looked your central theme after I started focusing on your labeling point. “I want to love, again.” I do too. Politics zaps that out of one.