We like to say that labeling is bad and should be avoided at all costs; that it categorizes and generalizes people and creates artificial boundaries. I agree. Mostly.
But I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this and I do think labels have a place, though I cannot quite figure out where that is or why I think it.
Then I remembered a friend who used to say that she was a vegetarian. But she ate hot dogs. And chicken and fish. Maybe only once in a while, but she ate them. Lots of people say that they are vegetarian when they are not. But, why do I care?
It is not because I think I am cooler or healthier because I am a vegetarian. But when I go to a friends house and they have carefully and thoughtfully prepared a meal of fish and rice made with chicken stock, and I do not eat it, it feels ROTTEN. For everyone involved.
And part of the reason this happens is because people misuse the label of vegetarian, and it confuses people.
And it seems to me that there is some connection between this story and labeling in general.
If I practice attachment parenting and my friend says that she does too, I may go to her for advice. If I am a new parent I am probably confused anyway. If her advice is that letting the baby Cry It Out is the way to go, I become confused and feel more isolated. Because then I feel like even those who practice Attachment Parenting let their babies cry, and my instincts are not trustworthy.
If a mom does not breastfeed, uses a stroller standardly and her baby sleeps in a crib, but says that she practices Attachment Parenting it is confusing. Really I think that she is saying that responds lovingly and gently to her children- which is something I am all for. Which is also different than Attachment Parenting.
This is a slippery slope, I agree. Exclusivity is not something that I think is good. But sometimes labels, or terms, help us to process information.
My conversations are different with parents who tell me they practice Attachment Parenting. I speak more freely and ask more pointed questions because I so desperately am trying to understand the practicalities of this parenting choice that I have made.
And sometimes what I ask may offend a parent. But it is not because what I have said is offensive, it is because I was operating with the wrong information.
So I do think that somehow labels are useful- even if only for helping us to understand philosophies and concepts and relate to each other more thoughtfully.
What do you think? Do labels serve a purpose? Would using a term other than labels be more accurate? Are they useful or are the divides they create to great?