We learn the label for a thing before we actually learn about the thing. Once we hear a label, we assume the label is the thing. So we encircle the thing without knowing the thing. The label is not the thing, it is just a label, by definition.
My daughter knows what the moon is. She can look up in the sky and say “look the moon”. But she is 3 and her depth of understanding of the moon is very limited. I can only imagine what she has constructed in her head to make sense of the moon. A flashlight in the sky that moves around? A big bright mirror? Where is the moon located in her mind? What is it made of?
Her understanding of celestial mechanics is limited. She doesn’t understand Newtonian motion. She doesn’t even comprehend how far away the moon is.
But she can point at the moon with joy and still enjoy it.
It gives me pause, as I consider with superiority my understanding of the moon. I know what the moon is, I know the path it takes through the sky, I even understand a bit about Newtonian physics describing it’s motion. But to be fair, in the end, I mostly know a set of labels.
The moon is, on average, 240,000 miles away. I know this, but to say I comprehend is a strong statement. 240,000 miles! How do you wrap your head around that?
Also, I’ve never been to the moon. I’ve never even touched a moon rock. So to say I know what the moon is made of is presumptuous rather trusting on my part.
Yet, relative to my daughter, I feel I have a pretty strong grasp on this moon thing. But I really just know a lot of labels and concepts related to the moon. I don’t really know the moon.
Certainly not in the biblical sense.
Familiarity breeds false understanding. The more you use a label, the more your mind registers that label. It becomes mundane and “known”. But it can actually lead to a superficial level of understand that prevents us from reaching deeper understanding. We stop trying to learn about something, because we thing we already know. We’ve settled for a label.
In some ways this is a defense mechanism. The world is so large and complex. There are many things that are beyond our comprehension. Or in many cases they are beyond our need or desire to comprehend them. Everybody has an engine in their car, but they don’t all need to know how it works and how to repair it in order to benefit from it. So we label it “My Engine” and move on with life.
This is all fine and good when it comes to the trivial and the mundane. But what about when it impacts somebody else?
We apply labels that we don’t fully understand to people. We judge and think we understand why we are judging, because they have been labeled. But the label is not the person.
Some of these labels are “Gay”, “Retarded”, “Weird”, “Strange”. We tend to label people without understanding that they are people and they need love, compassion and true understanding, the same as you do.
I believe this is why ancient theistic culture forbade the speaking and writing if God’s name. For one could not know God or the mind of God and speaking his name caused the brain to register familiarity. Over time this lead to a person thinking perhaps they did know God. I think that is one of the problems with religion today, a lot of people in positions of power thinking they know God, and dictating to their followers what God wants.
The next time you think negatively about another person and judge them. Pause for a moment and consider, are you judging the person? Or are you labeling them and dismissing them because of what you think you know?