Minute Meditation on Labeling Others

Soren Kierkegaard

I hear these or similar sentences often: “He is schizophrenic;” “She is clinically depressed;” “He is bipolar;“ She is ADD;” “He is ADHD;” “See that Latino over there;” “That black woman is my friend;” “He is diabetic.”

Here is a personalist (person-centered) perspective on the labels that are often attached to human beings: Always stress the primacy of the person over his or her problem or condition. Thus, one is a person with schizophrenia, not a schizophrenic; a person with depression, not depressed; a person who is bipolar, not bipolar; a person with Attention Deficit Disorder, not ADD; a person that has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, not ADHD; a person who is Latino, not a Latino; a person who is black, not a black woman, and a person with diabetes, not a diabetic.

A person is not a color, but there are colored persons, because persons have different kinds of skin pigmentation. Similarly, a person is not a condition, but there are persons with all kinds of medical and psychiatric conditions.

In his Journals, Soren Kierkagaard wrote, “When you label me, you negate me.” In 19th century Denmark, he was often criticized for his long or pointed nose and baggy trousers. But Kierkegaard’s point, which is relevant to men and women, especially teenagers, in the 21st century, is this: Labeling can easily become dehumanizing. In other words, to reduce a person to a label is to treat him or her as a thing, an object. A personalist objects to that, because a person is and always remains infinitely more than any label. In short, I am not someone’s label; rather, I am a person.