Sarcasm and name-calling were survival skills growing up. If you’re going to make it in my family, you had to be quick, witty, and ruthless or you got “taken down” by a sibling or a parent. In my Brazilian household, you could not afford to be timid or slow. Name-calling for us became a sport during meals where the whole family often created nick-names for friends and even other family members. It was all meant in good fun. Today, I must confess, I have the propensity to do the same thing with people around me–most of whom I see places like the Y but have never formally met. Recently I have become convicted about my labeling. So what’s the problem with labeling people you don’t even know? Well, plenty.
Here’s some of the people I see on any given day:
Naked Old Guy
I could go on, but you get the point. The problem with labels is that while they might be mildly entertaining to me, they ultimately do something terrible: they dehumanize. Insidiously a label will begin to erase all of the complexity of someone’s rich story and paint them as one-dimensional, soulless, caricature. As a communicator, I should have known of the destructive power labels carry. Just consider how negative political ads impact our perception of a candidate.
It’s easy to ignore caricatures. I have no problem walking by Squicky and not giving him the time of day. But, it’s much more difficult for me not to care about John, who’s been out of work for six months, and who would welcome a gracious word or nod.
People matter to God. They are not labels. My prayer is that I will begin to see them as God sees them.
What about you? How do you handle the nameless people in your life?