Reflections

Redefining life, one label at a time

To Label or Not

I like labels, it helps me keep belongings and perspectives compartmentalized. I may be way off the mark here, but I do believe that a lot of us do it, consciously or otherwise. We label people by the way they look, the way they talk, the kind of education they have, the kind of company they keep and so on and so forth. I, for example, could snugly fit into the labels of being a Mother, a Wife, a Techie, a Freelancer, a Stay-at-home Parent, an Introvert, a Perfectionist, a Control Freak, a Type A personality, a Booklover, a Music lover, a Cinephile… it could take a while for me to be done with this, so we will just leave it here.

And that is exactly what my bone of contention was this morning when a seemingly innocuous question – “Intro – Describe who you are” – caught my attention on FaceBook. (I had finally decided that it was time to update my profile picture and other details after almost a year!). Anyway, as I tried describing myself, all those labels came rushing to me as if they were bound to be the most obvious answer.

But as it goes with everything else in life, labels are not fair. They are pretty incompetent in defining the real you. There’s always more and even the ones that you manage to commit to paper, have fluid boundaries, pooh-poohing your whole idea of neat little boxes.

So, I sat there for a while, thinking. Meanwhile, the perfectionist in me was having a breakdown in the corner “Some acquaintance would read this ‘imperfect’ intro and put you in the wrong compartment of their minds, god forbid! FIX IT!

Of course, being at the center of my universe, I have every right to think that my “Intro” on FB is exactly what their lives revolve around. So, you see, it is, but natural for me to get nervous with the whole idea. Then again, my word for this year is “FEARLESS”, remember? So, if I were to not fall into the same old trap hiding in my shell at the tiniest flicker of discomfort, I had to get past this whole idea of being misunderstood (One of the biggest fears of an introvert! <- Need a label, anyone?).

So I sat there some more, toying with the labels that best answered to my idea of who I was. And it got me thinking about all the labels people have given me in the past and all the labels I, myself, have assigned to me over the course of living. Of all the big life events, motherhood seems to be the biggest label maker and breaker for me.

The biggest of all label makers and breakers

Before our son was born, I was the perfect parent (of course!). Even after that, when the imperfections inherent to the job began to unravel, I kept aiming for perfection for a long time. Natural childbirth? Check. Extended breastfeeding? Check. Cloth diapering? Check. Elimination Communication? Check. Attachment parenting? Check and double check.

But before long, just like an open soda bottle forgotten at the kitchen counter, all these neatly labeled boxes of perfection fizzled out – one label at a time – leaving behind a mild, cloyingly sweet, complex chemical called “maternal instinct”.

With it came the realization that obsessing over the crossed “t”s and the dotted “i”s in the manuscript of life is pointless. You can always infer the meaning and purpose without it being spell-checked and editor-ready. Thus began my journey from Type A to Type B personality and to acknowledging this fluidity and ability of people to change (of their own volition, there is no other way!), to letting go of perfection (to some extent) and finally to seeing labels as they are.

Just a baseline, the starting point, of your journey towards understanding another human being. Sometimes, you may never get to know more than those labels and that is fine. But when you do, you should be prepared to adjust your baseline – ramp it up a little here, push it down a little there – little nudges reminding you that the baseline was never meant to be a “straight” line, it could just as well be the curviest one you have ever set your eyes upon. And that is fine too.

It’s no secret that I love Java Programming. Though I have not worked in any “official” techie capacity since Sept 2014, I still do some coding from time to time to automate boring and repetitive tasks related to blogging. But Java was not the first programming language I learned. Back in college, I learned C first, at a time when the internet was not a readily available commodity in campuses across India. “Hello World” was the first program I ever wrote in C (like everybody else out there). For this five-line code snippet, I succeeded in generating a page full of compilation errors, take that “Hello World!” 😉

#include <stdio.h>
int main() {
    printf("Hello, World!\n");
    return 0;
}

But I am going off a tangent here. This is not the point I was trying to make. There is a point, though, I promise!

Redefining Labels

You see, at the risk of oversimplifying C’s capabilities, you have to admit that it is not an object-oriented language and although it is a super-powerful one, people needed more. Thus were born a plethora of other programming languages influenced by it. “C with classes” was one such language which later was renamed “C++” (“Cee plus plus”) and it, in turn, influenced the birth of my personal favorites, Java and PHP. In my techno-crazed mind, labels are like programming with “C”, a great, apt starting point but still, not enough. There is always something extra, a “++”, if you may, that is needed to reflect the extra bits. You don’t always know what they are, but rest assured, there is always something more.

So, the labels I talked about in the beginning, they still are true, but you have to see them in the light of the “++” attached at their ends. I am a stay-at-home mom, but I work too. I am a quiet person, but I have a loud, garrulous mind too. I am a perfectionist embracing imperfections, a control-freak slowly but surely surrendering control…you get the picture, don’t you?Agreed, I will still label people as I have done in the past because that’s what I do – it helps me put a baseline to people’s personalities – but I will have the insight to mix them together with all the other things a person is, give them the benefit of doubt as long as it is warranted and remember that labels are mutable and incremental. I will remember that the labels don’t fit snugly into neat little boxes, rather they are fluid – sometimes intermingling into a mess of colors, sometimes separating out into water and oil on their own accord – but always unique, always a little more. So, here’s to redefining the labels of motherhood in particular and life in general, one “++” at a time. Are you with me?

Agreed, I will still label people as I have done in the past because that’s what I do – it helps me put a baseline to people’s personalities – but I will have the insight to mix them together with all the other things a person is, give them the benefit of doubt as long as it is warranted and remember that labels are mutable and incremental. I will remember that the labels don’t fit snugly into neat little boxes, rather they are fluid – sometimes intermingling into a mess of colors, sometimes separating out into water and oil on their own accord – but always unique, always a little more. So, here’s to redefining the labels of motherhood in particular and life in general, one “++” at a time. Are you with me?

 

PS: If you are still fixated about my “Intro” on FB – as you should be if you fall under my personal favorite “OCD” label 😉  – Well, I could not decide on my labels there, so I settled for a quote instead. I turned to one of my beloved books, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll, which describes “Who I am” to a tee –

I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.’

Perfect, ain’t it? “At least for now,” says the pessimist in me.

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