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Moving beyond labeling

September 5, 2012

The following is from a great post by Joseph Young for Political Violence @ a Glance on the recent attack in Aurora, CO:

What do we call each?  Jesse Jackson and others have wrongly caled the Aurora attacks domestic terrorism. Some have wrongly called the killings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin mass murder. Getting the labels right is important because labeling an individual a terrorist is itself a political act — one that is often wantonly used to vilify an opponent. False labels just muddy the water. We need to move beyond labeling and simply classify similar acts so we can understand them and maybe even create policies to prevent them. It is useful then to distinguish these two back-to-back tragedies to understand how we can help prevent similar violence in the future.

I  agree. Labeling is about power and status. We label those different from us. We label those who are not part of our group (the group could be anything: gender, race, religion, etc). When we label others it also changes how we and those around us think and act towards the person being labeled, many times in subconscious ways. Much of the time we are well aware of this. We know that by labeling someone a certain way, we can get others to easily dismiss the person’s thoughts and concerns. Most labels don’t actually help or provide a benefit, instead they create barriers to interaction, they hinder communication and discussion, and they add unnecessary complexity to an already complex situation.

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