I remember reading a widely-shared online quote (don’t remember whom it was attributed to) which had a strong message: labels are violent because they divide us.
Other people I encountered were smitten by quote, which they perceived as profound and reasonable. Me? I find it simplistic and frankly brainless.
I acknowledge that zealous devotion to one’s label may lead to sectarianism, which may potentially lead to violence. But, it is also dishonest to claim everyone who identifies with a label is sectarian, let alone violent.
If that is the case, that means literally every single person in living history is guilty of sectarianism. Do you expect me to believe that?
From what I observe, the people who agreed with the quote hated either diversity or religion, which they blamed for all the conflicts in the world. As someone who actually grew up multicultural and religious, I find it nonsensical.
Maybe, they are projecting. When they talk about diversity causing conflicts, they are probably talking about themselves. I have this assumption because most anti-diversity folks I have interacted with never cite any sectarian conflicts (and there are countless to choose from); the only things they cite are their feelings.
Maybe, just maybe, their anti-diversity stance is their effort to justify their intolerance, to make it appears more universal than it really is.
Oh, and even if you remove religion from the earth’s surface, conflicts would prevail anyway. I mean, people have killed over their favourite soccer teams. What makes you think abolishing religion is the be-all and end-all?
So, now actually discussing the title, what are the benefits of labels?
For me, they encourage contemplation.
I identify as a Muslim because Islam is the religion I grew up, despite having been mistreated by Muslims who love hiding behind God and religion. It shows how I always separate the religion from the believers.
Knowing my combative and vengeful tendency, if I were abused instead of simply being mistreated, there is a high chance I would end up as an ex-Muslim who associates Islam with abusive human beings.
I am also certain I am not an extremist because I am not triggered every time others openly identify as non-Muslims; I genuinely couldn’t care less whether you are a fellow Muslim or not. Admittedly, at one point, I was on the way to zealotry; thankfully, I never reached the destination.
I identify as an Indonesian because not only I am a citizen, it was also the only national cultural identity I grew up with. Unlike many Indonesians, I don’t identify with a specific ethnic identity; I “blame” it on my upbringing in two multicultural cities with no dominant ethnic groups and a culturally neutral household. While it immunises me from ethnic and cultural sectarianism, it also emotionally detaches me from any of the country’s ancestral heritage.
I should also mention my slight reluctance to identify as an Indonesian. Apart from the aforementioned detachment, my personal interactions with foreigners also compel me to burst my national cultural bubble and explore the world beyond.
I cannot say this without sounding pretentious: I am an Indonesian and a global citizen. While Indonesia is my homeland, I believe the rest of the world is also worth embracing.
Obviously, having labels does not instantly makes you contemplative. But, you can definitely ask yourselves these:
Why do you identify with the labels you have now? Did you grow up with them? If you did, why do you stick with them? If you didn’t, why do you end up with them? What’s your relationship with fellow label wearers? What’s your relationship with wearers of other labels?
My point is not only labels are not inherently bad, we can also use them to understand how we become the way we are and what kind of people we could have become.
Instead of flaunting them your labels, you must always question them. Keep in mind that nature and nurture – which you have no control over – shape you. They decide the labels for you.
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