That’s the snap-to-attention opening line of Elizabeth Scalia’s latest posting at First Things. I meant to link to it earlier today, but got sidetracked.
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a moment and ponder the wisdom and grace of an examined, painfully honest life. Elizabeth takes herself to task (and a lot of us will recognize ourselves in her words, too) and draws a sharp line between loving and labeling:
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.