We once invited several families with children my son’s age over for dinner. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing. But guess what, we dads saw our kids playing together with the cardboard blocks!
Well, as good fathers, we had to participate. Didn’t we?
While preparing this message, I remembered that when he was younger, my son would play with big cardboard blocks. And, once he built something, he’d often knock it down and start over, and over, and over.
When you’re two, play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor any other measure of success or superiority. It’s about playing, about imagination, about stacking blocks. It was also about playing with someone. Blocks were a favorite pastime with Mommy and Daddy, Grandparents, and friends.
Playing with someone was fun. Our participation – being with him in his play – was the point. There was no goal, no purpose other than enjoy playing … together. It was about relationship.
Slapping a label on someone is a defense mechanism, it distances “the other” from us: making them seem to be “less than” in our minds. Labels can make others seem inconsequential or less than human, and so easier to dismiss, or ignore, or exclude, or oppress – or hate.
Not that this isn’t uncommon; but I’ve recently encountered quite a string of people who, being frustrated with my (admittedly) Progressive views, labeled me with various terms, including: “Anti-Jew”, “Palestinian Lover”, “Left Winger”, “Commie Extremist” (really?), and (my favorite) “sheep scattering GLORY SEEKER!” (A close relative of this is the tendency some have to use phrases that reveal the unspoken labels they’ve applied to you. Some of the most galling of these – for me – are when such phrases are used in a patronizing way, such as: “Your heart’s in a good place.”)
These attempts to make me into something other than I am got me to thinking: I was slapped with a label; then condemned or belittled for being (in their eyes) that label. But, they know almost nothing about me beyond their label. So, they are condemning a label, not me – a phantom that has no reality. There is no reason why I should accept such labels – or any label – as reflecting the “real me”; and in fact they say more about the person who bestowed the label upon me than they do about who I am (or who you are).
We all have a tendency to label people and things – it’s a perfectly natural thing to do. In fact, we are far more likely to do it to someone we don’t know than with someone who is close to us – and I’ll tell you my theory as to why…