Labels are for Soup Cans

I asked a very wise young friend once about being “emo.” He (very wisely) told me that he opposes labeling people like that, because “labels are for soup cans.” Of course he was right. I spent my teen years in the world of jocks and geeks, cheerleaders and stoners, mall-rats and punks, and I was most definitely a “none of the above.” And so was everyone else, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. We were all just people, notwithstanding the crowd(s) we did or didn’t hang with.  It is indeed foolish to live in a world where just because a few or several people have a few or several outwardly visible characteristics in common, one can assume anything about their shared thoughts or beliefs or feelings. Even my favorite label, “Christian,” doesn’t mean that I share every belief, or buy off on every value, of any other Christian from Pat Robertson to Francis Chan.

So I agree with my friend – in terms of labeling groups of people. For the most part it is overdone and leads to a lot of false assumptions and misconstructions. On the other hand, I think there is something useful about certain types of labeling ourselves as individuals. Or maybe I only think that because I am an INFP (Meyers-Briggs) with a high Input requirement (Clifton Strengths Finder.)

It really helps me to know as much as I can about how God made me, what I am good at and what I am capable of. It helps point me in appropriate directions, and gives me ways to challenge myself. For example, I know that I am an Idealist/Healer (Meyers-Briggs, again), with strengths in Strategy and Intellection (Clifton), and that my strongest spiritual gifts are Exhortation and Teaching. Not only does this affirm my career choice (secondary education) but it also keeps me from haring off on fun-sounding paths that would lead to disaster for me (archaeologist – seriously? I almost changed my major at one point. I would have died of boredom, or destroyed the find of the century from impatience.) Knowing that I’m a seriously unbalanced (I can hear the jokes you’re thinking!) Read/Write and Auditory learner (VARK) helps me construct my study time and learn effectively, and to take notes in ways that work for me.

I also find it useful to know what I am NOT. For example I am absolutely NOT a kinesthetic learner (VARK again). Why is this nice to know? Well, it makes it less frustrating that I can’t juggle, am horrible at most sports, and took five times longer than everyone else I know to learn how to ride a motorcycle. It’s not that I’m an idiot – it’s just that God made me differently than, say, Ti Bo (who is a breathtakingly awesome juggler/athlete but struggles to learn from books.) Knowing that I am not gifted at event planning or dealing with small children keeps me from making a fool of myself and doing potential harm by jumping in volunteering to take charge of the big fund-raiser  – or worse yet, the nursery.

And I don’t use it as an excuse – being the “anti-kinesthetic” will NOT stop me from riding a motorcycle. Or babysitting a three-year-old, if I’m needed. Just the opposite, really – knowing my limitations means I know what I need to compensate for, when I need to call for backup, and when to be a little bit extra-patient with myself. I WILL get my motorcycle license. I just need to take extra time to practice. I didn’t give up the first time I got my front brake and clutch backwards, because I know this about myself. I know that I don’t know my right from my left. That’s why I don’t give directions. I draw maps.

Do I have a point? Eh, probably not. I just couldn’t sleep with all this bouncing around in my head. It sprang from my plans to spend time with the teens at Saline Mayette this summer, where I do want to offer them a chance to take a spiritual gifts test and do some other self-discovery (labeling? maybe) exercises to help them figure out how they might be called to serve the future of Haiti and the Kingdom of God. I thought all this through a dozen times since I turned off the light, but it keeps spining around in my skull-space so I thought I’d better get it out. I’ve never tried blogging as an insomnia cure before, but I’m yawning now so that’s a good sign.

One of the first leadership tenets of the Marine Corps is “know thyself and seek self-improvement.” That doesn’t make me a soup can. But if I was, I think I’d like to be clam chowder. New England style, of course.

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1 Comment

  1. Rochelle said,

    October 4, 2010 at 7:59 am

    I hope it helped the insomnia and it helped me this morning with some self-doubts I’ve had bouncing around in my head.


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