I’m part of a generation that largely claims to make judgments based on an individual’s actions and the things he says. Unfortunately, if we were to test this claim against how we truly operate socially, this is not the case. We claim to detest labels yet labeling ourselves and others is exactly what we do.
Online social networks have largely contributed to our habit of distilling ourselves -- as complex as we all are -- down to a finite set of labels and hashtags to describe who we are and what we do. If you peruse Twitter or Instagram or Facebook you will find most of us have a list of labels in our bios (if you can call them that) that we somehow believe fully encompasses who we are. On these same sites, you’ll find liberal use of hashtags to put ourselves into certain categories.
I do realize that these tools do create some good, but it’s dishonest to think that there are zero negative consequences that arguably could outweigh the good. A person may claim they are a powerlifter on their Instagram profile, for example, and while these short-form descriptions will make that person part of that group, the group itself is only formed based on a vague and loose association. It may feel nice to get that quick burst of dopamine to have that association but it’s hollow and does not serve the individual in the long term. The bond you have with these people will never be deep enough to be truly satisfying.
It is these exact associations that may also drive others to direct their own derision toward you simply because you of the particular labels and hashtags you used to describe your being. Countless times I’ve seen hatred aimed at individuals simply because they claimed to follow a certain method, as an example, on their profiles and posts. As we all know, each person has his own individualized takes and interpretations of the sacred writings he studies, but a simple hashtag alone is enough to fill resentful people with negative assumptions that they use to try to attack others on a personal level.
I feel that we’re too entrenched in this social system at this point to effect any significant change. If it’s even possible to revert or to modify these systems we probably won’t. I know I’m not guilt-free and I have no high horse to sit on when it comes to this topic, but it is worth thinking about. You are a complex, multi-dimensional being and because of that, any attempt you make to assign simple labels to yourself to tell others what makes you-you is an act of dishonesty.
Written by: Brendan Beaulieu