Maybe you aren’t into labels and titles.
Maybe you aren’t into sports at all. Maybe you’re a foodie. A go-getter. A traveler. A thinker.
But words are more than words, and what you call yourself matters.
However we identify, if at all, we can easily recollect the one place labels meant everything.
Although high school was quite a few years ago for most of us, it’s very likely that we still have memories of the all-mighty hierarchy: nerds, “cool kids,” preps, jocks, goths, stoners and finally, surfers.
Notice a pattern here? Though each of the general personality types above indicates one activity that we may enjoy, they are drastically simplified; drained of all complexities and nuances so that we can hash out what we’re seeing in the person in front of us.
It’s difficult to say when labels became our go-to methodology for making sense of the world, and humanity. Although they’ve developed a negative reputation, what others call you is often the result of how you identify yourself.
Your identity is reflected by what you wear, what you do and how you behave. Thankfully, no one else can shape it for you. But the idea that because you surf you are a “surfer,” because you skate you are a “skater” and so on has a psychological impact.
It’s called the “Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis,” a mouthful but it suggests that the words we choose to illustrate people actually end up determining what we see.
As early as the ‘30s, research was conducted on how labels, terms and simple words effect us, and these studies have taken a vital sociological turn.
While one language may have a single general word for an entity, another culture may have 10 words for differently appearing/behaving forms of that same entity, a la the multiple terms for snow the Inuit culture utilizes.
A contemporary example lies in the numerous studies that have been done on the relation between names typed on resumes and their call-back rates.
Five years ago, the New York Times released an article entitled “Whitening the Resume.” Ten years ago, ABC News asked, “Can A ‘Black’ Name Affect Job Prospects?” Atrocious but important to know.
Perhaps most important is the fact that we as humans tend to adapt to what others label us, especially when these labels come from authority figures; this is also known as “self-fulfilling prophecy” and it is quite possibly the most problematic component of contemporary school systems.
In one study, instructors who were told by psychologists their students were “smart” or “slow” were proven to be so effected that the way they subsequently taught them was influenced; after a few months, the “smart” groups outperformed by 10-15 IQ points.
Now on to the positives.
Does calling yourself a “surfer” mean you’ll be able to catch that 20-foot wave? Likely not. But adoption of a label may indicate future embodiment of the term because blending your identity with this label in the first place means you have both the desire to become this and the drive to prove it to yourself.
Believing wholeheartedly that you are what you call yourself (or what others call you) doesn’t have to be a detriment. Only you have the power to leverage the way that a term makes you feel to your advantage. You may be called a “stupid jock” by one person while another labels you a “talented athlete.”
One guess upon which you should build your identity.