November 5, 2021 | OPINION | By Karly Hamilton | Illustration by Kira Schulist

When it comes to identity, there are a fair number of characteristics that are frequently used to describe our humanity. From gender and sexuality to political beliefs, we often use labels to define ourselves — and each other. 

Sometimes these labels can be helpful, particularly when we choose to put them on ourselves and have the freedom to select when and how we use them. Sometimes, however, more harm than good can come from labels. 

Identifying what religion one practices or what pronouns they would like to be referred to with does not harm those around them. Alternatively, labeling things such as political views can sometimes box people into a corner. With the political polarization in today’s world, using words such as “Democrat,” “Republican,” liberal, and conservative can lead to putting oneself into a box at times due to the connotations each word carries. 

Moderation is important to finding balance in life — there is often a gray area when it comes to things that can be labeled. The world should not be viewed as one extreme versus another, but rather a spectrum with varied perspectives. 

In other words, not everything is black and white. Finding moderation in the gray area can be hard at times, but it is crucial to acknowledge that a middle ground exists. 

While learning more about the world and trying to determine where my beliefs lie on a variety of topics, I have struggled to see this balance. It would be a great deal easier if life only consisted of binary choices, but unfortunately, that is not the case. 

Political beliefs do not need to be far-right or far-left; they can also be in the middle of the spectrum. Sexuality is multifaceted; there are more identities than being heterosexual or homosexual. 

It is important that we see this, and that we evaluate the role these parts of our identity play in our lives. Different characteristics hold varied value to individuals — it isn’t a one size fits all situation. 

Some characteristics are automatically assumed upon meeting an individual, such as race and gender. While society is broadening its views on these aspects of identity, change does not happen overnight, and we often make these assumptions upon meeting someone new for the first time. 

Other aspects of identity, such as religion and political beliefs, can be more difficult to gauge purely based on physical appearance. As a result, we get to choose how large a role these traits play in defining who we are. From where I’m standing, these aspects of identity are more telling about a person, as they must consciously choose how much they share rather than relying on first impressions. 

These labels that we choose for ourselves have value because we get to determine when and how we use them. However, the labels that others put onto us can do more harm than good, especially when the assumptions people make are not accurate. 

We must be aware of the generalizations we make as humans, and the innate biases we hold within. These vary depending on where we grew up, our family background, and a multitude of other factors, but they exist, nonetheless. 

Labels can be incredibly powerful and helpful at times, particularly when we select them for ourselves. But we also need to be cognizant of when labels are doing more harm than good and putting people into boxes. Closing ourselves or others off is rarely beneficial, so let us focus on open-mindedness instead. 

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