Tags and Labels: A Social Barrier 

“Labels are for fillings. Labels are for clothings. Labels are not for people.” – Martina Navratilova 

Back in 1990s/early 2000s Nigeria, every parent wanted his/her child to go to a Unity School as they were the leading secondary educational institutions in the country. The name ‘Unity Schools’ was coined by the Federal Government of Nigeria, and comprised of a number of colleges spread across the nation, which were used to promote national unity via the admission of “intelligent” students from all parts of the country and all ethnic groups. Little wonder the motto of these schools is Pro Unitate.

I was opportune to attend a Unity School, Federal Government College Enugu (in Fedi lol), to be precise. It was an eye-opening experience. You have people from all walks of life, background, ethnicity, religion, culture all mixed up in one place.

Ironically, this was the first place I learnt about labels and tags, and the effects they could have on both “the tagger” and “the tagged.” It was a typical high school, with so many people forming cliques, which differentiated the cool from the uncool, the smart (nerds) from the dullards, the boarders (gnashites) from the day students (day goats), ‘guy men’ from the ‘Jew men’, the rich from the poor etc.

The first place I witnessed the effects of tags and labels

Last year, I met some folks I went to secondary school with and they all addressed me as a “bookworm.” One even told me, “I’m surprised you drink.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as that’s the worst way to describe me. Although I did well in school, I can’t remember ever sitting in front of the class nor count the number of times I was disciplined by the teacher because I was a perpetual noise maker. I seldom paid attention but I get it, I did well so the bookworm tag fits perfectly.

Similarly, we place tags and labels on others in our minds the moment we meet them, based on different parameters, and most times, we are wrong. To be fair, labels and tags are all around. We are all labelled and tagged by either sex, race, ethnicity, religion, anatomy/physique, sexuality, socio-economic status, music we listen to, sports we play/sports team we support, clothes we wear or the job we have. Sometimes we don’t mean to label and tag others but we can’t help it; it just happens.

I wonder if labelling will ever stop. It has been used as a means of discrimination for thousands of years. It is like clothing people with what you want them to be whilst covering their real identities. However, human beings are complex and multi-dimensional.


I was taken aback when some folks asked if I was gay and gothic because they heard me play and sing rock hits and songs made by openly gay music artistes like Frank Ocean and Sam Smith. Even though, research has shown that music tells you a lot about someone’s personality, it is disputable. So I’m really curious, why can’t a straight man gladly enjoy good music made by gay musicians? Does being gay suddenly make their good music bad? I listen to and enjoy different genres of music, as far as it is good music. And for the record, Ocean’s Lost remains one of my best songs ever.

The problem with labelling others is that it limits the perceptions of the “the tagger” and “the tagged” about life creating a tunnel vision of some sort. When we tag and label others, we are overtaken by unintentional and unconcealed prejudice hence losing our ability to think objectively. It leads to segregation and as a result, we miss out on a lot of good things in life. We miss out on friendships, interesting conversations, business deals, good music, marriage/relationships, food, travel experience, family (via adoption), life-changing experiences etc.

Naturally, people cling to things and people that they are used to but I find that boring. Is it possible to change your perception about life if you stick so religiously to what you are used to? During my masters degree in the UK, there was a huge divide between the British and foreign students – it was as obvious as the midnight stars. And it did affect the budding understanding, friendship and relationship between both groups.

Labelling is a lifetime trigger. Once we have an encounter with another person, we tend to hold on to that memory for so many years until proven otherwise. As a consequence, a bad experience with someone can make us hate an entire race, religion, tribe or sex hence forgetting that we can also have similar experience with people from our own comfort zone.

There is no problem in using your past experiences to shield yourself from future hurt. No problem at all. However, it becomes a problem when you use your personal experience/standards to ill-advise and judge others. I mean your personal standards could be mere opinions or blatant assertions, not facts.

This is evident in our relationships and marriages. I had thought that what really matters is finding someone who is good for you, in every meaning of the word, regardless of his/her religion, race or ethnicity. Oh boy! How wrong was I?

Inter-racial, inter-ethnic, intra-ethnic and/or inter-religious relationships/marriages are still a “taboo” to many people across the globe. To even make matters worse, amongst Christians in Nigeria, there is still animosity towards members who marry Christians from other denominations. And most of the time, this segregation is heavily influenced by the church, parents/family and/or friends.

A person’s race, religion, sexuality, socio-economic status, calories, sex, tribe, nationality or intelligence does not define him/her. That black people like dancing does not mean all black people know how to dance (I mean, I don’t!). That white people can’t pronounce black names does not mean there is no white person who can.

Let go of tags and labels, and see people for who they really are. People are not their hairs, skins or your expectations. They are souls that live within.

What do you think of tags and labels? And how have they limited your views about others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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The Godfather: Lessons

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I watched the classic movie adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather for the umpteenth time last week. Twenty-five years after the last of the triology was released, the movie is still interesting and captivating. So let’s look at the lessons one can pick up from the movie.

1. Anger truly rests in the bosom of fools.
“Never get angry. Never make a threat. Reason with people.” – Don Vito Corleone

Don Vito Corleone’s first child Santino (Sonny) was hot-headed and that was his undoing. He smashed cameras, yelled at the Don’s consigliere Tom Hagen and publicly beat the sister’s husband, Carlo to a pulp. In the end, he became predictable, manipulable and was massacred.

2. Money is always an issue even amongst friends.
“Friendship and money. Oil and water” – Michael Corleone

How often have we heard people say “don’t mix friendship with business”? Friendship tends to take a back seat in business because everybody is out to make profits. It is all about personal interests and this can put a strain on a friendship.

3. Wisdom is better than strength.
“The sicker you get, the wiser you get” – Kay Corleone
“Women and children can afford to be careless, but not men.” – Don Vito Corleone

Initially, Sonny was perceived to be stronger thn Michael but in the long run, Michael proved to be a better don with his wisdom. Sonny was temperamental and acted on impulse whilst Michael was wise, intelligent and calculative.

4. Power intoxicates like wine.
“Power corrupts those who do not have it.” – Calo

Vito Corleone built the Don Corleone empire on friendship, humility, loyalty and family. This earned him respect, love and power. He was never power drunk or money conscious; all he asked in return was friendship and loyalty. However, Micheal was the complete opposite. He focused so much on power and money, and succeeded in legitimising the family business but lost all the friends and family around him. He drove his wife, Kay, away, murdered his brother Fredo and his sister Connie’s husband, and questioned Tom’s loyalty – the only person that was ever present for him. He ended up alone and abandoned in contrast to Vito who died at an old age in the midst of family and friends.

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5. Violence is the last resort.
“Once war erupts, lives are lost, business close down or completely halts. I don’t like violence Tom. I am a business man. Blood is a big expense.” – Don Sollozo
“I hoped we could come here and reason together. And, as a reasonable man, I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.” – Don Vito Corleone

Despite being a movie centred on the Italian mafia, it is interesting to note that diplomacy was chosen over violence throughout the movie. Don Vito Corleone was always diplomatic and always made an offer you can’t refuse.

6. Family is everything.
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. The only wealth in this world is children, more than all the money,  power and wealth” – Don Vito Corleone

The movie depicts Vito Corleone as a family man who gave everything for his family. He adopted Tom Hagen as his son just like the Abbandando family adopted him after he fled Sicily. He repaid the Abbandandos, by making Genco Abbandando the first consigliere of the Corleone family.

7. Keep your business private.
“Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking again.” – Don Vito Corleone

Every family has secrets that are exclusive to them. It’s best to keep your business private. Don’t discuss your personal or family issues/business to outsiders. Someone may use the information in their favour or for their own personal gain.

8. Afford people some level of privacy; don’t meddle in their affairs.
“Sonny don’t get involved.” – Carmela Corleone to Sonny after he tried to break the fight between the sister Connie and husband Carlo at the dinner table.
“It don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.” – Don Vito Corleone

Everybody wants a little privacy. Try to mind your own business. Don’t take aspirin for other people’s headache. Giving personal advice on personal matters is a no-no unless your opinion is sought for.

9. Emotions cloud your judgments.
“Never hate your enemies. It clouds your judgment.” – Michael Corleone

People often get emotional and take sides in every situation and become biased. The emotions cloud what they think they see. Don’t make decisions when you are angry and don’t make promises when you are happy.

10. Don’t mix business with pleasure.
“I’m here on business I leave tomorrow now get rid of them. Come on, I’m tired. Get rid of the band, too.” – Michael Corleone to his brother Fredo after the latter offered him some girls.

We all struggle to maintain focus in our daily lives. Mixing business with pleasure can derail your focus and make you lose the big picture. Michael was a very focused business man, which helped him to come up with a solution to problems at a quicker speed.

11. Respect is earned not given.
“Now you come and say “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me “Godfather.” – Don Vito Corleone

We often delude ourselves that we are owed respect because of our talent, money, fame, beauty, intelligence etc. The naked truth is that no matter how awesome you may think you are, no one owes you shit..you have to earn it. Don Vito Corleone earned the respect of people in his neighbourhood by making sure he addressed the concerns of the people unlike Don Fanucci who terrorised the neighbourhood and let them weak his beak a little.

12. Health is wealth.
Good health is the most important thing. More  than success, more than money, more than power – Hyman Roth

This is just to reiterate what we already know. A healthy man is a wealthy man. Just because you are trying to make ends meet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your health and take care of yourself. Exercise often and watch what you consume.

13. Don’t cry wolf too often lest people will doubt your sincerity.
“He’s been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years.” – Michael Corleone

Regurgitating your words will make it hard for people to believe whatever that comes out of your mouth overtime. Hyman Roth kept complaining about his deteriorating health to a point that no one believed him anymore. Michael eventually got tired of his complaints and made him sleep with the fishes.

14 First cut is the deepest.
We all carry emotional and physical scars from life battles but first cut is the deepest. And it will always be. Our past will always determine the way we act in the present and see the future. Don Cicci massacred young Vito Corleone’s family and made him an orphan. He only escaped because the mum held a knife to Don Cicci’s throat and let him abscond. He never forgot that and returned to Sicily years later to kill Don Cicci.

15. Jealousy is for the weak.
Movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger once said ‘Everybody pities the weak; jealousy you have to earn .’ We only feel jealous towards others when we think we are in direct competition with them. Fredo Corleone was annoyed by his father’s decision to make Michael the next Don following the death of Sonny. Hyman Roth played on Fredo’s weakness, naivety and jealousy for his younger brother, Michael and used him as a pawn in an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate the Don.

What did you learn from the movie that I omitted? Please do tell.