Once You Label Me, You Negate Me

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Alice

We live in a world of labels. Democrat. Republican. Fundamentalist. Atheist. Career woman. Housewife. The list could go on ad infinitum…ad nauseam.  The thing is, these labels allow us to put people in a very small, easy to understand boxes.  THIS person fits in my world. This one doesn’t. They allow us to make snap judgements with very little insight as to whether or not someone is worthy of our time and emotional energy. To one level or another, we are all guilty of this.     

We do each other a grave disservice when we allow ourselves to judge and be judged by these shallow labels. After all, to be pigeonholed by one trait or preference is so limiting! No one is simply one thing.     

I am a caregiver. But I am also a woman in recovery, an artist, an activist, a writer. A friend. A sister.  A daughter. There are a million things, big and small that make up the sum and substance of who I am, as a person. This is as true for every other human being as it is for me.    

I chose to write about this because I realized how often I view the people for whom I care simply in the context in which I see them; as my residents. I care for them, have laughed and cried with them, do my best to keep them comfortable and happy and let them know that they are loved and not alone. BUT how often do I see them as someone other than my resident? How often do I think about the complex lives they have lived before they crossed my path?       

I listen to their stories from the past; from the time “before”…but it’s hard for me to connect with the imagery of their pasts outside of the facility walls. It’s hard to picture my residents as a single mom, a Rosie the riveter, a merchant marine, an artist, a homeless vet traveling the country…and yet these are all stories that I have heard at one point or another over the years.     

Partly, it’s a defense mechanism. May wrote of facing her mortality; seeing her future self in one of her residents. That’s not an easy thing. It’s one of those fears that no one likes to think about, but we are faced with it every day. It lingers, sometimes, that fear, dancing darkly in the back of my mind.       

Partly, it’s simply a lack of time. I’m too busy to reflect on this at work! Maybe I’m only listening with half an ear. Maybe my mind is on the next task I have to complete.         

Those are reasons but they are not excuses. I can improve my time management enough to pay attention. To LISTEN and CONNECT, not just with who they are to me in this moment, but with who they are as individuals who have lived full and dynamic lives. I owe them that. Anything less is contributing to the slow ripping away of their humanity.