When I show people pictures of my furkiddos, they might say things like, “Oh, he looks like a black lab mix” or “he’s definitely got pit bull in him.” Typically I just nod along, grateful for their suggestions but letting them feel like their guess is right is usually easier than starting a conversation about it. Unfortunately, my kiddos aren’t the kind of mutts that have entertaining mixed names like bull-shit or shnorkie. If I really felt like getting into it, I would have to say “I have three black dogs: A 7yo male Australian cattle/pit bull/something mix, a 5yo male lab/akita/border collie mix, and a 7yo female coon hound/German shorthaired mix.” I have a cattlebullthing, a lakitollie, and a coonhaired.
Starting at $60, you can DNA test your pup to find out exactly what he’s made up of. This sounds cool—for about two seconds, when you realize that it’s $60 for information that you can do practically nothing with. Is knowing that your dog is a full-blood cockapoo going to make you buy different treats or visit a different doggy daycare? Will finding out your dog has French poodle in him influence how much you like Chomper, or how many tennis balls you let him chew up?
Hopefully not. (*If you answered yes, we have some bigger issues to talk about.)
So what then, is our obsession with labels?
We do it to people: “Look at that bro,” or “Hey, check out that dime-piece;”
and we even do it to ourselves: “I’m such a girl” or “I’m running behind, sorry I’m late to everything!”
Where does the need to compartmentalize everything and box things up come from?
Because it feels good. In a world of war, secrets, disease, murder, technology, and conflict, being able to classify anything satisfies our need for control and counters all of the unpredictability in our lives. It is our balancing force to chaos.
So we need it, I get that. But what if we picked our labels more selectively?
For the furry kind: “My dogs? Oh they’re quirky, wonderful rescues, professionally trained in feet warming and snuggling;”
the human kind: see a shy, kind guy or radiant girl over there—introduce yourself; and the ME kind: “I have a lot of things going on in my life and I messed up this time.”
The last one is the hardest, I know. I have to leave notes to myself all the time, reminding me to be kind to my heart and remember what I am capable of. Maybe, when the time comes to hand out labels, we could all make an effort to call on strengths. I believe in doing so, we will begin to encourage, promote, and support our selves AND the identities of those around us more deeply.