Pervasive Tagging: Labels in Conversation that Ultimately Kill It

“You’re weird” is one of the best compliments you as a thoughtful person can receive. It tells you that you go against the grain, that you’re unpredictable perhaps. You are someone who does not act how you are supposed to according to the social norm; you have in some unique way broken away from what is expected of you. It’s good because humanity prizes diversity, and you embody just that. But while you see the label as a compliment, to your interlocutor it is surely a méfiance, or much worse, an insult.

To be called weird is to be pinned with  a badge of uniqueness, but not one of respect. Those who call others ‘weird’ are not doing so out of the objectivity of their observation but rather because they are unable or incapable of a more thoughtful designation.

There is no such thing as a weird human being. It’s just that some people require more understanding than others.” -Tom Robbins


Labels and their detriment to conversation

Although I single out ‘weird’, it is after all just one word among many others that some people use as scapegoats in order to save themselves from more intellectually rigorous conversations. ‘Weird’ is a label. It’s a label, just like the reactionary labels of ‘wow’, ‘that’s awkward’, and ‘TMI’. By using these labels, people show that they’re either too stupid or too lazy or too apathetic to understand something that probably at current they do not.

Using labels is a way to deliver a package of assumption, consideration and judgement all within the confines of one or a few syllables that at once tell you what the utterer thinks and that no, it is not negotiable nor worth the time it would take to have them think otherwise.

So when you’re in a conversation and someone breaks it by commenting on the subject matter that it’s awkward, they’re telling you three things: I’m not capable of elaborating on the subject, it frightens me because I’m not used to talking about it, and your reputation in my eyes is diminished because you choose to talk about it.

What labels do to conversation is to kill it outright like a bucket of water over fire. I was recently in a conversation about the benefits of societies for academic merit when a third person damned the entire interaction by saying, “stop arguing”. Stop arguing. This is one of the worst labels because it’s easy to throw around. We were not arguing; we were disagreeing in conversation and hearing each other out patiently. But when the label was laid, there was no more conversation on the topic of scholastic merit but instead we were now arguing about arguing, since hardly would I allow the transgression to go unchallenged. What had happened is that the third person resounded their disinterest, their feeling of discomfort and their inability to make useful commentary. The conversation had been growing in complexity as logs added to a fire, and right when it was getting interesting the label was poured down to smite the flames, resulting in so much steam.


Catch your tongue

Labels are detrimental to constructive interaction. Instead of building something interesting and unique through long, thoughtful conversation, you destroy an edifice with the sharp edge of canned responses and reactions. These labels, as far as I am concerned, serve for nothing more than to label their users as inept.

But it’s easy to fall afoul of this situation, because labels are also a natural tendency–it’d be difficult to have a clear conception of the world if it wasn’t for some labels and stereotypes.

But what makes us human is our reason, and so wherever we can force ourselves to be more thoughtful than our nature would allow, we ought to.

1 Response

  1. Viajera Peruana says:

    Muy de acuerdo contigo. El abuso de etiquetas en el lenguaje denotan una necesidad de categorizar el mundo y encasillarlo de unas maneras que no corresponden a la realidad. El ser humano abusa de las etiquetas en su afán por “entender” el mundo, y creo que más que nada por el miedo que tiene a lo que no puede entender.

    Me haces pensar que es importante forzarnos a ver el mundo y a las personas de la manera más abierta posible, mostrando mayor curiosidad por lo que los demás tienen por decir, de una manera respetuosa, comunicativa, y evitando en lo posible las etiquetas que reducen y dañan.

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