If you look at the world around you, you will see these incredible categories. Like you say, “tree, river, fish,” you know, these are all category systems, and in order to be efficient in how you respond to somebody, all the people must agree on the category list. I mean, we could say that everybody with a purple shirt is a category. Now you are in a category and you weren’t a moment ago. You were still a part of everything but you weren’t within that label because we hadn’t agreed on it existing yet.
Some categories are emotionally laden, because they are discriminations that are made in order to keep certain social codes in operation, and to reduce anxiety by not legitimizing certain actions.
You know, like sexual relationships. I mean, when I was at prep school and got caught with another boy by the upperclassmen nobody spoke to me for a year in the school, and they didn’t speak to me because I was “queer”, I was a “faggot”…
I was all these labels, and the minute I was labeled that way, they all had a code of behavior regarding me that was justifiable. Suddenly all the categories, the fact that they used to play checkers with me, or were my friend or something, that all was subsumed under this new label that made it impossible for them to come into the same room where I was.
I think that we respond to labels very much in terms of our psycho-dynamic needs. Now here I want to play it lightly because things have changed so fast, but I have experienced that there are personality characteristics that I recognize in the homosexual community that… and I don’t think it’s so unique to homosexuals, but it’s clear in that community that there are feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
So when somebody labels you in a derogatory way from a social point of view, there’s a way in which it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It feeds your image of yourself, you know, and then you grab it, and you say, “Yeah, that’s right, I am inadequate.”
Now as society changes, all of this changes. It starts to mean different things and I’ve begun to, as I say, work very hard to cultivate that part of my consciousness that has no label, that doesn’t have a definition.
It’s like a flashlight, it doesn’t matter what the flashlight shines on. It could shine on my body, and I’d say “oh, I’m a man.” It could shine on my skin and I’d say, “Oh, I’m caucasian.” I can give other labels, but the light itself has no label. It’s just a light, and so I don’t live in the world of labels, and they are just sort of like this shirt. They’re just something I’m wearing, and I think that it’s interesting that as your psycho-dynamics change, you will see that a label you needed at one time, you no longer need, and it can fall away.
I mean, I spent 25 years in school and then finally I had this Ph.D., and I wore it on my forehead. I really needed that at one point. But, it’s totally just a club membership. It’s like belonging to American Express or something like that. It’s interesting that a label can go from meaning something to meaning nothing.
– Ram Dass