Labels and Such – Part I
I was watching a documentary on the band Lynyrd Skynyrd last weekend, and it was mentioned that when he was a kid, Ronnie Van Sant used to love to go fishing in the “Cedar River”, which he and his friends called the “Cedar Creek”.
NOW do you see the huge problem with labels? Umm… probably not. I suspect the Florida Hydrological Engineering Society wanted to come down and order these middle school boys to use the correct terminology. The real question is, “who is to say?” Was it acceptable for the Van Sant boys to label their fishin’ hole as a creek? If the Hydrologists and Cartographers say otherwise, are they “correct”? Who has the authority to define and label things?
Some would say the dictionary. In my Logic and Critical Reasoning classes, I tell my students that dictionaries are not rule books – they are history books. They tell us the common usage of words in a specific language group over time. They give all the various meanings ranked in order of most common to least common usage. They simply tell us that if we use a term, these are the definitions that most likely our readers/hearers will have in their heads.
There are no Semantic Police… at least until lately (more on that in Part II). Semantics is the science of word meanings, and in a free and open society, people can use words any way they desire… they are only limited by the probability of misunderstanding when they employ a word outside the standard meaning usage.
In a recent article in the Daily Mail, it was reported that Stefano Gabbana does not want people to “label” him as gay. He said he was tired of people labeling him by his sexuality and wants people to think of him as “simply a man”. I think it is fine for him to want that… and even to publicly state that. I do not, however think that he, or anyone else for that matter has any legal, moral, or semantic authority over us requiring us to comply.
I understand wanting the world to see you as more than one dimension of who you are. I am a human, male, son, brother, father, uncle, nephew, teacher, mediator, conflict specialist, coach, writer, friend… amongst many other things. All of these are important facets of my being and if someone honed in on only one aspect as if it was my entire being, I could see myself being miffed, but I think most folks don’t care a whit about who Stefano has sex with as long as it is behind closed doors and the person is of legal age and consenting. As to why individuals want to pick out that dimension of Mr. Gabbano, I have no clue what goes through their minds, but if he lives his life in public demonstrating attraction to and affinity for male rather than females, his lifestyle certainly gives rise to why people would categorize him as gay. I wonder… would he have a problem if people “labeled” him as wealthy, powerful, talented, chic, and etc. My guess is that he would not. Also, my guess is that when he makes reservations at high end restaurants and clubs, that he does not want to be labelled as just a “simply a man” – I would bet he wants to be labelled as a wealthy, powerful public figure who should be treated preferentially.
Either way, I personally and professional encourage people not to be “judgmental” with people, but labeling does not mean the same as being judgmental. Putting things in categories of other similar things is a basic function of thought – we do it all day every day. It makes our experiences more manageable. Being judgmental is when we look down on others because of the category in which they have been placed. Judgmental people think they are superior to those they judge. Labeling people just categorizes based on observation. Labeling is not wrong or bad.
My guess is that Stefano wants very much to put a HUGE value on the label of Dolce-Gabanno when they make purchases of cologne and clothing. As for me, I will shop at Walmart and go fishin’ in a crik.
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