Labels. Our world is consumed by attaching labels to things, and then identifying with those labels entirely, to the point where the entire meaning of what that thing represents is lost.

Consider politics. Our politicians are depicted in both Canada and the U.S. based on labels. It’s not how well they can do the job, their integrity, their honesty that people concern themselves with. What is more important to people is to apply labels (“She’s a woman with a pregnant daughter”, “He’s an old guy with health problems”, “He’s black”.) In Canada – (“He has no personality”, “He can hardly speak English”, “She’s a livewire”).

(DISCLAIMER – The above quotes are NOT personal opinions of mine (I have a policy NOT to get involved in politics online). I’m simply trying to make a point.)

My point is, the real effectiveness of the entire election process is lost, because people apply labels, and then are led to believe that this is what our candidates actually represent.

Turn to social media, which these days is ripe with labels. Community Builder, Enabler, Trust Agent, Social Media Guru…these are all words I’ve heard in my travels around the Internet lately. There is nothing inherently wrong with using these words to describe an aspect of the subject matter. Where the line goes fuzzy is when people start to identify with any of these things. When people are identified with being one thing or another, then it’s easier for them to push other people aside. The feeling is “You’re not a [insert label here]…what possible contribution could you have to make?”

There’s also a point where labels can give people a false sense of credibility – something they can hide behind. Just because you put on your blog that you are a “Community Builder” or a “Social Media Expert” doesn’t make you that thing.

What gives someone authenticity and credibility is their actions. Some characteristics of this kind of person include:

  • He writes/presents well, clearly articulating concepts and opinions.
  • She debates cleanly and presents an honest alternative to the status quo.
  • He teaches others.
  • She is accepting of other points of view but stands up for what she believes.
  • She is friendly, open, generous and kind to people, even her detractors.
  • He doesn’t change his “label” every three weeks to meet the current trends.

Labels are necessary in order to make sense of our world on a practical level. But attaching anything more to a label than it’s role as an identifying marker stifles the ability for people to move beyond, to what is deeper.

In the end, the underlying truth of defining this new media space will be lost unless we move beyond superficial labels and begin to explore what is really going on here.