There is a lot of consternation out there the last couple days about the Executive Order banning immigrants from seven Muslim countries in order to prevent terrorists from entering the country. While there is a lot of arguing from both sides, I want to focus this post on one specific aspect of this issue-the application of labels. Let’s think about this for a minute:
Is it right to label every citizen from those seven countries as Muslim? No. That would be equivalent to labeling every US citizen as Christian and we all know that isn’t true. Even if you factor in the point that some of these countries don’t allow freedom of religion, you can’t accurately label the entire citizenry with Islam.
Is it right to label every citizen from these countries as potential terrorists? No. That would be like labeling every single, lonely, bald headed white guy a terrorist because of supremacist groups. Of course there are terrorists in those countries interested in finding their way to our shores to carry out what they believe is a righteous crusade against us infidels, but the majority of the immigrants from those countries trying to reach our shores are the kinds of people most world religions tell us to care for and love.
Labels, like many things can be used for good or bad purposes. They help us distinguish things which helps us make choices but also leads to discrimination (a different manifestation of choice.) They allow us to take pride in who and what we are such as my immense pride in being an American (label) with Norwegian heritage (label) who proudly served in uniform (label) and has a beautiful family (label). On the other hand, it can be used by others to apply labels to us which we didn’t ask for but allow others to discriminate me from the next person. I really find it interesting when groups who fight discrimination such as the LGBTQ community reinforce labels that make them stand out while saying they just want to be treated like everyone else. I recently saw a National Geographic cover that had seven different gender categories, yet I truly believe each of the people posing on the cover under each of those categories wants to be treated the same as anyone else.
Let me finish with a famous story that talks about the problem with labels. Up until 1976, France was unequivocally recognized as the world’s premier wine producer for as long as anyone could remember. French citizens and officials boasted about their prowess at every available opportunity. However, in 1976, an English wine merchant in Paris conducted a blind taste test between several of the best wines produced in France and California. Amazingly, the wine experts (and they were truly renowned experts) who judged these wines guessed the origins of many wines incorrectly and the California wines came out on top when there wasn’t a label to bias their judgement. This story is captured in much better detail and color in a book titles “Judgment in Paris.” Check it out and then think about the labels we each apply that limit our thinking about things and people we know.