It’s a little funny that we celebrate the annual chance to start over. As if there was only one time each year that we were allowed to reflect or begin something new. As if exercise didn’t count unless the routine began on January 1. As if one large decision could totally change us if there isn’t effort throughout the year. As if the first day of 2015 was the answer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about labels recently. The titles that we affix to ourselves or others depending on very strange qualifications. How if you like sports, you’re a “jock” and fit into the “jock” mold. And jocks are dumb and overly macho and uncreative. How if we play video games, we’re a “gamer” and we fit the “gamer” mold. And gamers are clever and can’t grow good facial hair and they’re smarter than you. Oh, and they’re always guys. Can’t have girls involved. Where you’re from defines you. What you look like defines you.
Molds can’t be broken. Labels can’t be removed.
I wonder what labels are affixed to me. What molds I am supposed to fit into. A white Christian from the South. That’s a lot to carry in the eyes of others, like my friend who joked about the Union beating the Confederacy after a football game where Ohio State beat Alabama. It was a joke, but it was about so many biases that it successfully satirized basically every problem we have with each other. I’m probably supposed to be uneducated and angrily judgmental of everyone because of my beliefs or my skin tone. Same as how we force molds onto any skin tone we find. “Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason” but why are we required to willingly see things that way? We forget that the Samaritan helping the injured Jewish man on the side of the road was a highly offensive thing to talk about. People with differences weren’t supposed to get along. It wasn’t about somebody being nice and helpful when other people weren’t. It was about a man taking every social belief that people held about him and shattering them. It’s not ironic that Jesus tells the story to a group of listeners who held a cultural belief that they were better than the Samaritan. It’s ironic that that we take that lesson and lose it in the midst of a battle of labels.
There’s a stupid lesson that we often hear in movies that is true but hidden in a fog of indignation. The world will tell you who you should be. It doesn’t have to be that way. Not that you should angrily fight to find your importance in all the things that you do. Rather, you should understand that you are important solely because you exist, then act out of that. You are not defined by what you do any more than you are defined by the labels mistakenly thrown on you by the world.
The world tells me who I should be because I am a white Southern Christian. The world doesn’t like the fact that I enjoy blasting loud rap music and that Motown speaks deeply to my soul, not to mention the amount of flat bill hats I own. The people who look down on me because of where I hail from don’t like the fact that I’m literate enough to write blog posts and I actually collect shoes more often than barefoot. I’m The Christian culture I find myself dealing with at work doesn’t like the fact that I still prefer singing old hymns and that I honestly don’t know who Kristin Stanfield is. The world tells me who I should be. I reply with who I am.
It’s silly that we want to start over annually. The rolling over of a new year is nothing more than a change in numbers. The internal change we all crave doesn’t come from the earth’s orbit. It’s got to come from becoming who we actually are, not who we are told to be.
While I admit that a large amount of my life is spent handling this bizarre quasi-chip on my shoulder that I hold about many things, righteous indignation can’t be the force of change. Maybe it’s noteworthy that when Jesus talked about politics, he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and not much else. Maybe it’s noteworthy that because I hate social media culture, that I resisted buying into it to the point of hurting my creative productivity. But maybe using the term “creative” to label somebody is a stupid thing to do. The world tells me that publishing a blog post on a Saturday is a traffic killing move. Maybe traffic is a stupid thing to believe in.
We live in that complication. In the paradox of a world of labels being the easy way to describe things but also being the hardest way to live.
So maybe 2015 arriving is actually a big deal, but it really doesn’t mean anything so long as we continue to buy into the world of labels. As long as I buy into it. As long as we’re defined by the way people view us. As long as we define people the way we want to view them.
Let’s break the mold. Let’s remove the labels.