Each of us has many labels. Some of them we like, others we don’t. Some of my labels are (in no particular order!):
Some labels we wear with pride and some we choose to hide from others for fear of their reactions. Few, if any of the labels above are enough to provoke a strong reaction in others, and I can write and share them freely – but what of some of my other labels?
- SUV driver
- Occasional plastic bottle user
Now, I would start to get a few reactions, from a few people – some would start to judge my lifestyle choices and to tell me what I was doing wrong, with or without attempting to find out more about me, but still, few people would start to react strongly. Until we move on to some of my other labels:
- NDP voter
- Pro-Choice Advocate
Now the strong reactions will start – “How can you believe…?”, “How can you not…?” and yet these are all choices I have made, and choices that I am comfortable with. This list of labels will have built a picture of me in your mind, and it may or may not be accurate. Your responses to me will now be shaped, in part by your reaction to my labels and that is something I am comfortable with. I have made choices about the type of person I want to be, and for the most part am comfortable with who I am.
But wait… I have other labels:
- I have big feet
- I have freckles
- Oh & I live with depression – and there we go – your picture of me just changed again 🙂
This is where it gets foggy – when someone reacts to a label that is not a choice.
That is what my sons live with every day. Two of them live with Autism Spectrum Disorders, one of them has Aspergers, and the other has Autism. Neither of these is a label they have chosen to wear, but more importantly, neither is a label that should define them as a person or cause them to be ashamed of who they are.
G is moving to kindergarten this September, and we are deciding whether or not to write the “Our son has Autism ” letter to his classmate’s parents. We have been advised that it can head off questions and misconceptions, but it concerns me that it will also result in G be labelled “The Autistic One” in a negative fashion. Those that are ignorant of the true nature of Autism may seek to keep their children away from G, causing isolation and perpetuating the misconceptions. But if we don’t share his Autism with everyone then it is somehow hiding it from the world, suggesting that he has something to be ashamed of.
We try to raise our kids to be comfortable with who they are. They are taught that other people have choices and opinions and that even though you don’t have to agree with someone’s opinion, you do have to respect their right to have that opinion. On top of this, they are taught that many of the things that make each of us different are not choices. Many of the things that make us the wonderful individuals that we are are the things that we are born with. Those are the things that should never be judged, the labels that should never be used as insults, the aspects of ourselves that should be embraced and celebrated each and every day.
I would like each of my children to be able to grow up in a world that accepts them for who they are. A world in which they are expected to be good and kind and respectful and can look forward to goodness, kindness and respect in return. A world that does not judge, in anyway, the things we cannot change and encourages openness and dialogue on the labels we can choose for ourselves.
It is not our labels that are the problem – it is other peoples response to, and use of those labels. Wear each and every one of your labels with pride & welcome & embrace the labels of others, even if they are not the same as your own.