Limiting ourselves with self-imposed labels

Minimalist cactus

Name-calling is hurtful. We all know that.

So why do we hurt ourselves by assigning labels to our behaviors; our very thoughts? Why do we place ourselves in categories, and rank ourselves among movements? It’s a form of self-destruction; or self-protection as we huddle behind a gossamer wall.

So what led me down this path?

I saw a YouTube video by a young woman who appeared to be in her mid-20’s. She had embraced minimalism, which is easy to do when you are young. Thinking back, I was a minimalist for at least a decade, when I had nothing; didn’t want a great deal; was busy experiencing life and learning society’s unwritten rules. Even then, I had plenty of stuff I didn’t use—objects and memorabilia from childhood and cast-offs from family members. But it all fit in a single closet, since I had so little.

Anyway, this young woman had become disenchanted with minimalism. She wanted more than two plates in her home, because she wanted to entertain friends. She wanted colorful clothes instead of the plain ones that fit her minimalist ideal. She wanted a pair of scissors other than her nail clippers. In seeking to live up to a label, she had surpassed it and ventured into asceticism. But self-deprivation is nothing new. It is, in fact, ancient. The label had imposed a magnified image, in which a multi-dimensional world was viewed through a single lens.

And wherever there is a label, there are those who take it to extremes, becoming competitors on a track with no finish line. Who is the ultimate minimalist, vegan, Christian, Buddhist, liberal, conservative, runner, body-builder, through-hiker, biker, collector, prepper, drinker, bad-ass? There are those who will argue for their own superiority beneath a label’s banner, since other people are not true [insert label here].

Perhaps being human seems too futile and fragile, and feeling superior in some way—any way—makes us feel safe in an unpredictable world. But without care, the label becomes isolating, separating us from the community; from naturally generous people with valuable gifts who can help our branches grow. Does any tree strive to remain a stick?

So what banners do I fly under? Too many to count. But they wave in the wind; are never ironed with starch. Sometimes they switch directions, or collapse in stillness.

The labels fluctuate as I grow. I’m a seed in the mud; a thorny stem; briefly a rose.
Always growing and accepting of water; nutrients; sunlight; the care of varied insects. I droop in rainstorms, stretch beneath blue skies, and dance in the wind.

Together my neighbors and I create a garden. None of us carry the ultimate bloom, since a single blossom is unsustainable. Once frozen, growth ceases. We wither beneath the weight of [glistening, sparkling, unblemished snow].

Community of cacti

Photo of cactus in white pot by Pexels with Pixabay.
Photo of colorful cacti by cetceeq with Pixabay.

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She is a [mostly] vegan, alcohol-free, [relatively] caffeine-free, Buddhist writer and day-hiker. Her novel, The Clones of Langston, was a Reader’s Favorite medalist and a New Century Writer Awards finalist. It tells the story of cloned workers who are abandoned to form their own society. As the facility housing them erodes, they discover a challenging new world—our own.

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