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Why do we put labels on people?

Updated on September 2, 2013

Entering the hotel room during a short holiday, I was surprised to see a choice of pillows on the bed. On one pair there was a label saying Firm, and on the other Soft.

That got me thinking, imagine if we had to put on a label every morning to let people know how we were feeling? Perhaps it would read Happy or Sad, Optimistic, Feeling under the Weather or even, I need a hug.

But what label would people put on us? Would they call us Sarcastic, A Good Listener, Encouraging, Pessimistic, or A Good Friend?

And why do we feel the need to put labels on people anyway? Does it help us to pigeonhole them so they are easier to deal with? A shorthand so that we can decide how to treat them? To decide who is important enough to merit our time and love?

The way that we make up our mind about people is hardly scientific or even logical at times. We look at their face, their age, their colour, their clothes, their car, their house, their job. But actually what do these things tell us about the real person?

An emotion a minute

Of course depending on what's happening to us we can go through lots of emotions and feelings, often in the space of an hour, never mind a day. And we can even come across differently to different people, say Firm when dealing with colleagues or staff, yet Soft around our children or grandchildren.

The labels people put on Jesus

About 800 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah spelt out some of the labels that Jesus would have: Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father and The Prince of Peace. Who wouldn't want to get to know someone like that?

But as it turned out many of the Jews of His time had other names for Him; many that weren't so complimentary. To many He was a problem, a rebel, a trouble maker, a madman. While to those that He helped He was a healer, a teacher, a wise man and for some, the Son of God .

Above the cross on which He was crucified, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had the sign “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”. Another label, and the Jewish leaders of the day took exception to it, but by His death Jesus can become the King of our hearts and lives too, if we accept Him!

After He died, the Roman Officer in charge of the crucifixion said, “Surely this was God's Son.” It is intriguing why the Officer made that statement; he would have seen many crucifixions in his time, so what was different this time. How did Jesus behave as He died that was different from others killed in this way?

But as it turned out, his statement has lasted over 2000 years and in it we have the best label of all. One that can change our lives for now and eternity, if we believe it. Then we can add the label Christian to our other labels.

The last word

“God judges people differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” 1 Samuel 16 v7 The Message

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