How would define yourself? As a doctor, lawyer, CEO, surfer, father, daughter? How would other people define you? As rich, poor, attractive, skinny, friend, foe? How would marketers define you? As middle class, 30 to 39, black diamond? The world is full of labels, branding, in-groups and out-groups.
For some of us, these labels are very important. The labels we give ourselves define who we are (as do the labels we give others – they define who we are in the context of who they are). Labels are the building blocks of in-groups, the clan, the friendship group.
And on one level, labels are useful. In fact, we are wired to label things. Without categories, we would not be able to chunk information (people) together. Chunking is like defragging your hard-drive. It helps your computer process faster (similar things are found in the same place).
At the extreme, we have two categories; the stuff we label “okay” and the stuff we label “not-okay”. And we tend to think that things we are familiar with are more “okay” than new things, and we also tend to be attracted to the stuff we have labeled “okay”. Our ancestors would have found this to have been an excellent survival mechanism. But there is a dark side to “tribe”…
Most of us are probably guilty of allowing the external labels to define who we are, and of applying our own labels on others.
Most people do not see you, they see the mask either you or they (or more likely a combination of both) present to the world. When we become fixated on labels, when we believe that we are the mask, then we allow something external, arbitrary and transitory to define who we are. When we allow something external and arbitrary to define us, we become detached from our true self. It is said that the map is not the territory. Perhaps we can also say that the mask is not the person.
It is difficult, even when you are fully aware, to become removed (if not physically then mentally or spiritually) from the world where labels, brands and perception are everything and “what you drive, where you live and who you know” is what matters most. But when we we are more in tune with our true inner self, we (hopefully) begin to act in accordance with this understanding and this is where I think true freedom is found.