I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
In a world where labels for people are convenient and sometimes unavoidable but not always helpful, many of us shy away from using labels when we can (especially when it comes to labeling children, which is a difficult and complex issue that I’m not going to address here; I will limit my discussion to adults). “Hoarder.” “OCD.” “Believer.” “Liberal.” When applied to ourselves and to other people, sometimes labels are helpful, sometimes not. But there is a way in which labeling ourselves can be a very good thing.
In our process of personal growth towards greater maturity, we learn much about life and about ourselves. As we learn, we clarify our understanding, make distinctions and connections, and put names or labels on things (ideas, personality characteristics, situations, and so on). We may later change our minds, if we continue to stay open to new information life brings us; we might trade one label for another, see a new distinction we didn’t see before, and so on. In this way, growing involves naming.
For example, in the last year I’ve learned more about the term “introvert” (thanks to my Toastmasters friend Laurie Helgoe, psychologist and author of the book Introvert Power). Now I understand that, according to the framework of these terms, extroverts gain energy from being around other people while introverts drain energy around others. Knowing this about myself and having a name for it helps me to not judge myself and also to plan better: now, if I’m going to a social event, I know to take it easy before and after if possible, so I don’t get overly exhausted (as I’m prone to do). I don’t know whether these terms apply to everyone in black-and-white clarity; I’m not the expert. All I know is that the label “introvert” has opened a new door of helpful understanding for me about myself. This is just one of many examples of how naming or labeling has helped me in the process of personal growth.
Tangentially, I think this is perhaps one of the ways Aristotle was so important to Western thinking—he devoted much time and energy to classifying and clarifying ideas, such as different possible meanings of the word “is.” His efforts boosted the intellectual growth of his culture and of the cultures that rediscovered him after the Middle Ages.
So go ahead—grab hold of a label and see where it takes you.