Years ago, I entered my new classroom with books and duster in hand. I also entered with a preconceived notion of each and every student in the class. My colleagues had already warned me about so and so and advised me against him and her. He was arrogant and she was lazy. She was a do-gooder and he was slow. The back benchers needed watching and some of the girls were prone to sudden bouts of crying.
It took me a month to unlearn those well meaning lessons, so generously provided in the teacher's staff room. A wasted month. I could have spent that time getting to know the class, but all I did was to wait for them to prove the teachers right. I dealt with them according to the label they had been awarded unanimously by teachers burdened with corrections and lesson plans and co-curricular activities.
In the next few months, I realised that arrogant equalled to painfully shy and lazy was actually a thyroid disorder. The do-gooder had low self-esteem and the slow child was actually a left hander forced into using his right hand.
With such gay abandon we classify the children. Forcing them to become the label thrust upon them. Label a little girl 'good' and she spends a lifetime living upto that tag. Even when she wants to be bad. Praise a little boy for being obedient and he will forever see virtue in living within the boundaries drawn by others. Imagine the conflict created by that innocuous title. To forever comport oneself in a manner decided by some one else is to live a lie. Call someone a perfectionist and you have turned him into a beast of burden. He will be eternally bent by the weight of expectations, his own being the heaviest. Call some one happy go lucky and he will learn to hide his fears and hurt within himself, always playing the part of a resident clown.
We assign labels to ourselves too. Mother, wife, sister, daughter, career woman, single woman, a woman of a certain size or of a particular skin tone. We play our roles as conditioned by legacy and culture. We juggle them and play true to form. So we are on a perennial diet. Or we are the gullible consumers of the idea of beauty decided by peddlers of insanely priced skin whiteners. Again and again we are victims of age old labels, bottled in new age expectations.
It is hard to shrug off a label. It is harder to stop the habit of labelling because it is a convenient way to justify somebody's actions or inactions. But if you must label, label the deed, not the doer. The job can be shoddy, the handwriting untidy, or the answer incomplete. These adjectives need not be transferred to the person. We must also be aware that labelling defines the labeller more than the labelled. Do not be label locked. Set your children free!
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