When I was a kid, I spent a good bit of time playing in the mud and fields of the Hatchie river bottoms in Tennessee. As such, I was a filthy wreck most of the time. This, along with being a growing kid and “country poor”, meant I received a good deal of hand-me-downs. However, these didn’t come from older brothers or even people I knew. It was like a grab bag of potential sizes from who knows, and it didn’t help that I was actually particular about what I wore, though I probably ended up looking like a hick anyhow. The clothes that bothered me most were the ones that had other peoples names written on the shirt labels: Johnny S. or Timmy G. or what have you. — For those younger readers who don’t understand this whole bit about writing your name inside your clothes allow me to explain. Back in my day, parents had some sort of phobia about the abduction of shirts. Now criminals take the whole kid so it’s kind of a non-issue. — Anyhow, I was not Jonny S. or Timmy G., I was Donnie Y. (I was Donnie back then) and the whole idea of walking around with someone else’s label on me just felt weird. If I couldn’t rip the tags out, those shirts would remain in the back of the drawer until I inevitably out-grew them.
However, there was another shirt with someone else’s name on it that I would wear: my Bo Jackson shirt! I don’t have a picture of the Bo Jackson shirt because, for one, it was a really long time ago, and for two, it was eventually contaminated with bleach and ruined. However, this shirt was not a hand-me-down, it was store-bought at the height of Bo’s awesomeness. I didn’t mind having Bo’s name on my shirt because I wanted to be associated with the legendary athlete. — Once again, for my younger readers who are wondering who this Bo Jackson is, let me inform you. Firstly, he is not related to Michael Jackson. Back in my day we had athletes that could play multiple sports, supremely, whereas now, yours can only do one. Bo was one of those athletes. — Regardless, he was t-shirt worthy and some damned devil destroyed it with bleach.
Hopefully you are catching on to where I am going. This article isn’t about shirt labels, but some of the same ideas apply.
The Labels We Wear
There are a number of labels we get tagged with and often tag our children with. For boys, ADHD or ADD tops the list. I am now meeting young men who wear the ADHD label like a badge. More on that later. We also have the often self-prescribed “I’m not a ___” labels, as in “I’m not a runner.” or “I’m not an early morning person.” etc. Add on to all of this the innumerable medical labels: allergies, mood disorders, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, and so the list goes on, which leads to the perception of “I can’t be whole unless I have [fill in the blank] medication(s).”
ADD and ADHD
As of 2005, the CDC reported that 4.4 million children were diagnosed with ADHD. The number has continued to jump and as of 2013 there were a reported 6.4 million, or 1 in 10. There is a good chance you or someone you know has this diagnosis, and a good chance they are taking medication for it. There is a strong part of me that says, “Throw it out!” and apparently I would not be alone in thinking that the vast majority of these diagnosis is just an attempt by the medical establishment to give parents what they ask for: a pill to fix my kid.
I’m not going to go into the specifics on this, because this isn’t an article addressing ADD and ADHD specifically, rather, I want to point out the danger of this label. Too often this label is used as an excuse. Parents seek it as an excuse to not grow in their parenting. Adults seek it as an excuse to continue drifting through life rather than excelling. I can hear the comments on this already: “You don’t know what it’s like to have ADHD. No one would choose to have this disease\diagnosis\problem!” Whoa, put the claws away, tiger! I’m not saying you don’t have an issue. I am saying that when your issue becomes a life-long excuse and crutch, you’ve lost something you need to get back, namely, dignity.
Depression, Anxiety, and Mood Disorders
Anyone who has dealt with depression or anxiety, or has closely known people who have, knows how tremendously difficult and physically draining these can be. Telling someone who is battling depression or regular bouts of panic attacks that part of their issue may very well be themselves is not only difficult to do, but also very scary as you understand much of the problem is a heaping on of self-condemnation and guilt and you don’t want to tip the scale.
Once again, the goal of the article isn’t to address every circumstance of these far too common issues so they may be resolved, but rather to address how we are handling the issues as labels. If you are depressed, it’s best to admit it. If you have panic attacks, the same applies. However, if you begin saying “I am a depressed person.” or “I am an anxious person.“, watch out! Giving a name to what we are dealing with is one thing, but allowing it to define us is another.
Race and Religion
If I haven’t hit a nerve yet, I’m about to. I can’t say this happens much in the typical white culture that I have been a part of (which is really just a melting pot of so many ethnicities we don’t know where to lay claim), but I have seen this with guys who are Black, Latino, Asian…well just about every other culture. It is defining yourself within the community for which your race or background best fits. There is a lot of good in this when kept in its proper place. For us whites the community is often bound by religion: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and divisions with each sect. Thankfully these barriers are being trampled under foot. For example, I know a number of Jewish people who really aren’t practicing Jews but rather have strong family ties to that heritage. Being Jewish becomes part of their meta-data profile, rather than a defining characteristic. I have Black friends who think exactly the same.
The issue here is that your feelings towards yourself are then based on how the community is being treated, or the perception of how it is being treated. Do you feel free to progress in your life? It’s because the community, the basis of your self-understanding, is progressing. Do you feel that you can step outside your cultural bounds and be your own person without feeling like you are betraying your community? You should. You are your own man after all.
Effeminacy of Youth
There are labels which we unknowingly sport around with us, given to us at such an early age and often by some authority figure, they seem to be concrete truths. Not surprisingly, some men have allowed themselves to grow into the boundaries of the mold presented to them rather than plum the various depths of their manhood, and find they can tread deeper and fiercer waters than they had been told.
This type of label is worthy of an article of its own, but there are a few ready examples that come to mind:
Take a moment and read through those again and take the time to let them in. Did any of them hit a tender spot? It may be time for some soul-searching and healing, brother. You’ll be glad to tear these labels out.
The Labels We Should Seek
Just like the t-shirt example in the opening bit, there are labels we should want to adorn, either because they truly define us or because we wish to be defined by them.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world!” – John 16:33, ESV, The Bible
History is filled with the men who overcame…not so much the other way around. The overcoming man receives some new information about himself in stride. Have you thought about what that means, to take something “in stride”? It means you are going somewhere and can’t be halted by it. Like the cavalry man who takes a lick on the shoulder or leg from the sabre of his enemy, as he and his steed crush on through a wake of dervish warriors.
So, you have a learning disability? Time to get to work! Oh, your family has a history of obesity? We’ll see about that! ADHD? Hmmm, what did TR do about that? The overcomer is not a get-arounder. In other words, he is determined to reach the crest by climbing atop his obstacles.
Oftentimes, defeating a label means going against the grain. After all, professionals, parents, & spouses have all been in agreement. Who are you to say different? You’re a man, that’s who! It doesn’t take much to be a stubborn ogre and block out any negative news about yourself, but it takes one heck of a man to hear that rough news and face it head-on, determined to prove himself against the expectations of the world.
The label of ‘Manly’ encompasses all the goodness you could ever wish upon a fellow, and is the label every man should strive to be proud of. Like the donning of a sacred military uniform; it doesn’t make you a perfect soldier, you may in fact be very much the recruit, but it symbolizes to yourself and every one else that for which you stand.
Unless you have some really good friends, there is a strong chance no one will ever tell you outright what labels you have been hanging on to that you need to rip out. Often times, people accept us as we are, but it is our job to see past our self-governing limitations and start behaving like the man we wish to become.
This is a tough (not to mention long) article and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on any of the labels you’ve dealt with.