Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Friday, December 10, 2010

Don't Label Me

When our kids were born, my husband Jeff and I were determined to avoid labeling them in any way. We wanted to raise individuals whose potential was not at all restricted. We even went so far as to ask friends and family to refrain from referring to our younger daughters as "the twins" (even though they are twins) because they deserve to be treated as the individuals they are. So what do I make of the fact that the other night before bedtime, one of our daughters says, "Mommy, one of my sisters is the smart one and one of my sisters is the nice one. What am I?" I explained that each one of them is so much more than a label, that they each have so many amazing qualities, that each of her sisters would likely resent being restricted to the single characteristic she attributed to them, that the "smart one" is also nice and the "nice one" is also smart "Yeah," she said, "but what am I?" Now, anyone who knows this particular child knows that she is the "funny one". I asked if that's what she was waiting to hear. Turns out that it wasn't. She knows she's funny - it seems she was hoping to be something more than the "funny one".  And she is - she's so much more than the funny one. She's also the smart one, the nice one, the athletic one, the compassionate one, the fun one and the pretty one. No matter how much I tried to use the moment to teach the importance of staying away from labels and being all that you can be, she wanted her adjective. As we ran through her list of attributes together, she happily settled on "athletic". She is, indeed, the "athletic one" - albeit a smart, funny, nice, compassionate, fun and pretty "athletic one".

Labels, even those that are merely implied, tend to box people in and limit the possibilities and opportunities they are willing to consider for themselves. Labels make most of us think of  movies like Mean Girls and High School Musical where we are introduced to the the different cliques or categories of kids at school and cautioned against changing the status quo. Then along comes a book like Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, which considers the fact that people change, sometimes even the mean girls.

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