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Are you ready to embrace your labels?

author's note: This is a blog post I've been thinking about writing for quite some time. I realize now that I also wrote one on this topic back in March... it truly is a topic near and dear to my heart. I hope you will hear me out and read until the end, and there is a very good possibility I will elaborate even more on these ideas in a future blog. Thank you for reading. <3 Elizabeth

Are you ready to embrace your labels? Not the ones other people put on you, but rather the ones you would use about yourself. Your religion, your race, your sexuality, your heritage, your talents, even your weaknesses... the list goes on. 

My entire life I've been hearing people say "we need to put our differences aside, and learn to love each other for how we are the same: as human beings." We're told we must put an end to labeling people, including ourselves, because how can any good come from them?

For a while, when I was younger, this seemed all well and good, because surely if people were able to come together with how we are the same then the dialogue can begin for learning to love each other for the unique individuals we are. Right?

As an adult, I've realized the opposite seems to be true. More and more spaces that are all about connection and coming together ask the same thing: during our time together, please don't bring up divisive issues; love each other where we are the same, as humans beings, as souls. 

I see this idea becoming more widespread, and every time I hear it my concern deepens. Can we really not learn to love each other *because* of our differences, rather than *in spite* of them?

But this is where I grow confused. You see, it is so often the same people who implore us to come together in our sameness who also preach, "the world would be boring if everyone were the same, so embrace your individuality!"

How can those two ideas coexist in the same place? If I am meant to keep to myself what makes me different, hide the labels that describe me or even drop them altogether, how can I also share my unique heart and spirit with other people?

Now, I am all for coming together and learning how to how along and love each other, but I am ready for a revolution: I want us to learn to love each by getting to know what makes us different, learning about each other's unique lives experiences, being encouraged to ask and answer questions about our unique beliefs and ideas about the world. After all, if we never get to know anyone different than ourselves, how do we ever have a hope of understanding our differences? And without learning about our differences, can we ever really discover where there is overlap?

I moved to Orlando, Florida just before my eleventh birthday, and I lived there until about 2 years ago shortly before my twenty-fifth. Basically, I grew up there, and during the best years of my life to have experienced the diversity it has to offer. 

I would argue that Orlando is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. In my years there, I met people from all over the world. I went to school with them, worked with them, talked with them, became friends with them. I met people of every race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic background, gender, sexuality... quite possibly meeting people who were different in every way it is possible to be. 

I am curious and inquisitive, as I believe we all are born to be, and I love nothing more than for people to tell me stories about their lives. For over a decade I met so many interesting people who gladly shared about themselves, stories about what shaped their lives, stories about their beliefs, stories about their hopes and dreams. 

I do not know if this would have been possible, if I could have received such a diverse education about human beings, had I lived almost anywhere else. Though I'm glad to have left the Florida heat, every day I miss the diversity of Orlando's people. 

After my years of firsthand experience learning from as many different people as I could, I think I am now even more shocked when I hear the cry for loving our sameness and keeping differences off the table. 

Aren't we supposed to seek out diversity?

I personally believe that it is impossible to be truly diverse if we never know what makes us so. 

I believe that now, more than ever, we need to get curious, and really try to learn what it is that makes us unique and different as human beings. 

Don't stop the conversation when you find out someone had a different upbringing than you, ask them to share their story. 

Don't assume you know about different religions because you read a book once, seek people out of different faiths and ask them to share with you. 

As divisive as politics can be, you can't even begin to hope to understand what "the other side" is thinking if you can't find people to have open discussions with about their views!

It is my hope that sooner rather than later, we as human beings learn that while it may be great to bring us all together in our similarities, to truly love each other we must begin to talk about our differences. 

It is far more powerful to learn to love someone who is not like you than it is to love someone simply for being human (but please, let's keep doing that too)!

Elizabeth Van HalaComment