Don’t Label Me


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.

The Problem With Labels

Here’s some of the people I see on any given day:


Crazy Guy

Angry Doc

Skinny Girl

Surgery Boy

Leather Lady

Cable Guy

Drama Queen

Outfit Girl


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?

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  • Thanks for this, Maurilio; I love the insights you've shared. I'm definitely working on this as well, though I may be behind you. I often fail to even "see" the nameless people in my life. One strategy I have is to see my day in terms of people I'll encounter rather than tasks I have to accomplish. Make me more alert and expectant.

    • That's a good way to look at it Geoff. Thanks for sharing.

  • Steve Shantz

    Great Post "MetSexGuy"!

  • Thanks for the character check. Definitely will be more aware of how I mentally label people.

    Creepy old naked guy is on his own though. Sorry.

  • Kevin Justice

    I agree with the first reply. May God grant me the grace to "see" people instead of being so focused on my own agenda.

  • I handle them by leaving them nameless. I really struggle with the people who "self-label." People who identify themselves by something they do rather than their being a person. When you don't accept their self-labeling (i.e. "I'm just a drunk." "I'm an idiot.", etc.) they get very angry with you.

    I see people as people. Some of them may be hard not to label but I try to pause and see what might be causing the anger or the frustration. However, there's nothing you can do about Naked Old Guy. You're just doomed there.

  • Maurilio, This is a perceptive post. Thank you.

    One word on old naked guy: We have a gym in our neighborhood now, but when I used to go to the Y I would share the locker room with a number of older women who had just finished their water aerobics class. More than one of them would stand in front of the mirror without a stitch on. One in particular would lotion up her whole self, while carrying on a conversation with me. Awkward! At first. Then, I began to envy the confidence, the nonchalance, the un-self-concious outlook of these women. And I dared to hope that someday I might have the courage to be "old naked lady". I'll let you know. 🙂

  • brmom92

    This post hit home. Thanks. I have been trying to do this, lately, especially at places I frequent for coffee in the morning and see the same worker each week. May God help us all to see those who provide services in our daily lives.

  • Thank you for the morning dose of gentle self conviction. I appreciate how your words of wisdom are more like an encouraging nudge instead of like the cattle-prod of shame.

    P.S. You misspelled "Squeaky", and forgot about "Felony Dude". But hey, I'm just the "bald racially-ambiguous brown guy".

    • I will remind you about "gentle self conviction" next time you pull out the cattle-prod of shame during one of our workouts.

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  • Facebook User

    Oi oi Mau, Funny the at first glance I instinctively knew you were
    Brazilian:) I came across your blog as I was researching for my book on
    Labeling. Just wanted to drop a quick thank you for your words as it
    gave me some new ideas for my book. If you have any interest in allowing
    me to pick your brain a little please email me at
    Cheers and be well my fellow Brasileiro:)

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