I know I’m not the first person to say this, but humans have an obsession with labelling each other.
While I could just as easily be talking about a period in my childhood that was marked by an extreme interest in a label maker, I am in fact referring to something we all share, a need to label and group people.
Of course, there’s a reason we all do this. We label and divide people that are mean or hurt others, and learn to stay away from them. And we also group people we enjoy and that are nice to us. Usually, we label them as friends.
This isn’t an inherently bad or dangerous process, and in truth, it’s a vital part of being the social creatures we are. However, the real danger comes from the fact that when we label people and put people in groups that are different from our own group, we show these different people less compassion.
Simply put, we care more about people we see as similar to ourselves. When we hear about a plane crash in a foreign country, even if everyone involved was a total stranger, we care how many Canadians were on board. When we hear about new jobs being created, even if no one we know will be hired, we care more about the ones in British Columbia than we do about ones created in Nova Scotia. Each of these labels has a different level of meaning and there are millions that we assign. We do it based on where people live, what career they have and even what sports teams they like. But we have more compassion to the people we share things with, and we care less about the people we see as different. And this is especially dangerous when we apply meaning to labels that should be meaningless.
No one questions comparing which ethnicities voted which way in an election.
Yet it would be laughable if we compared votes based on eye colour. Both things are inherent differences between us. But one we see as trivial, and the other we see as having real meaning. We might not consciously think anyone is better or worse based on skin colour, but we will still see ourselves as different because of it. Thus, we divide ourselves based on it.
Now I know you could argue that while race should be something trivial, in our society today, it isn’t. And I agree. I guarantee that everyone reading this, whether it was positive or negative, has been judged at some point in their life based on the colour of their skin. And equally so, that very few of us have been judged on the colour of our eyes. Because we do regularly separate based on race. And every time we do, we reinforce that it is something that’s important. And it simply is only important, because we continue to divide ourselves based on it. If tomorrow everyone in the world started treating skin colour as they do eye colour, racism would cease to exist. Not because people would start accepting others that are different then them, but because what they would see as different, would be entirely unimportant.
These things that divide us are constantly changing. People move towns or change jobs, and even nations will rise an fall. And while some may say the difference is simply the law of nature, I would say that humans share more in common with each other than they do with anything else in the universe. We’re all just people, and we all share that. In a world where the things that divide constantly change, the thing that makes us all the same simply never will.
Kevin Styba-Nelson is a Grade 12 student at Princess Margaret Secondary School and a regular contributor to the Western News.