Labels vs Understanding

How often do people fall into the trap of thinking they understand something or someone simply because they are able to give it a name? Years ago at college I learned that biological classification is an arbitrary system for grouping living things into kingdoms, phyla, species and, least convincing of all, races.

All categorisations are artificial, yet all thinkers use them to create convenient reference points around which to build frameworks and base theories based on those models. In some senses it’s a necessity. Scientific researchers divide the world up into easily manageable chunks because that makes it easier to deal with than trying to absorb everything in one gestalt gulp.

Elsewhere, in our interactions with other people, I don’t think it’s quite so necessary. Yet we still do it, whether it’s Myers-Briggs personality table or astrological sun signs. For some reason we seem to think that putting people into those pigeonholes – or even putting ourselves into them – means that we know them or understand them.

Okay, maybe there is some truth in all these things. People and objects do sometimes conform to types. Nevertheless, we are all changing and growing, and natural objects in different areas may have more similarities than they seem to have at first glance. At some level or other, categorisation always breaks down and we are faced once again with the fact that we often don’t understand that much about either the universe or each other.

Whether the labels hold true or not, it’s stimulating and fun finding out where the boundaries really are and where they break down. It’s also a mark of respect that gives freedom to those we love to accept or ignore labels on their terms. That gives each of us freedom to grow, explore ourselves and enjoy our world.