It sucks to be labeled. Even when that label is a supposed “good label,” such as “Popular.” It reduces you to one word when you are so much more. It is limiting. It suggests you are a “one-trick pony,” which is an old way of saying you got nothin’ else to offer but the fact that you were voted Prom Queen or made a touchdown.
Labels ignore that you are more than that. Labels ignore that you are unique, creative, and interesting. Labels also suggest that you aren’t sometimes confused, uncertain, lonely, or sad. Or all of the above at once.
People forget that there is so much more going on inside of each person. They slash away at others who are different from them with their words, actions, and attitudes, forgetting there are common bonds and shared emotions no matter what someone looks like or where they sit at lunch.
Everyone is more than their label, more than what meets the eye.
That’s why labels are stupid and hurtful and immature. And people who judge others, try to crystallize another person’s personality and character into one word, one label, are very small minded.
But, I’m judging those who do that, aren’t I? Caught me.
My daughter, Jocelyn Desmond, was a multi-faceted person, just like you. She was smart, beautiful, athletic, a good singer, funny, and a good listener. She was also depressed, hurting, lonely, insecure and dangerously impulsive.
She knew she was loved, greatly, by her family and many, many friends. But it wasn’t enough. She let other outside forces get inside, under her skin. She developed emotional and mental issues that twisted logic and reason around in her mind until they didn’t make sense and only emotions and reactions compelled her forward.
Here’s where a label would’ve been helpful. I wish there was a label that would’ve warned us that she was capable of killing herself. But, as a reader wrote to recently, you couldn’t tell by looking at her.
“I have read about Jocelyn before but (saw) her photo for the first time today. She is so beautiful. Seeing her beauty made me realize: there is no ‘suicidal type.’ Those who commit such an act of personal murder aren’t ‘emo’ or ‘goth.’”
The reader went on to say this realization motivated the reader to reach out to a friend “before it’s too late.” The friend, who had made suicidal comments, confessed everything. The reader got the friend help.
I’ve heard from dozens of people who shared what Jocelyn taught them and how her life and death impacted them. I’ll be sharing those stories in the future.
But with school just starting, I wanted to write to you, teens. I hope her death affected you in a real and lasting way. I hope you can develop inner strength to embrace who you are fully and not rely on a label to identify you. I hope you recognize that we all have strengths and weaknesses, flaws and good qualities, talents and limitations. But it’s how we love ourselves and each other that truly matters. Love and accept yourself. If there are things that need changing, things that are self-destructive or destructive to your relationships—change them. But recognize that you’ll never be perfect, life will never be perfect, and you can’t base your belief in yourself on what others think about you. Stand strong and independent from their labels.
But wear one label well: compassionate. Be kind and loving and forgiving to others. Stop judging them for what they are wearing or what club or sport they belong to or what car they drive. Stop judging them for any reason at all. Who made you judge and jury for who should be well-liked, anyway? A compassionate person doesn’t judge. Instead, they reach out and help others who are hurting, as the reader did with the friend.
When you talk to someone at school or online, remember that they are a human being just like you. You are flawed. They are flawed. You make mistakes. They make mistakes. If someone is rude to you, remember that, often, it isn’t about you. It’s about them. Stop fighting with each other over stupid disagreements. They really don’t matter. Stop posing as if you are so cool and so above everyone else, because we all know that those who shout the loudest about how they are so cool, strong, and tough are actually crying the loudest inside, hurting from unseen pain or deep self-doubt. Stop putting others down to try to build yourself up. We all know what you are doing and no one is fooled into thinking you are better than anyone else because you try to make yourself look better.
You never know when your words will cut so deeply that the scar will never heal. Or when it will be a fatal wound.
And if anyone makes a suicidal threat, take it seriously. Don’t make jokes about it or taunt them. Tell someone who can help.
So, again, try out a new label: compassionate. If we all treated everyone with compassion, it could change our corner of the world. It could even stop people from choosing to leave this world way too soon.
Jaletta Albright Desmond is a self-syndicated columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in Davidson with her family. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Need help? National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).