Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Labels We Use

Recently, some people instigated a conversation about what our three years here have been like. Obviously, these moments of retrospection are not entirely without bias. A lot of your memories become part of one big nostalgic blur, indistinguishable, mitigating those rough edges, the moments of dullness and stupidity. This is what one generally finds is the case. Immured in a last-minute box of mementoes, write-ups and paraphernalia, we forget to cast that last, crucial circumspect look at all that has been terrible, incongruous and plain insufferable. This is not to say of course that this is what we should carry with us when we leave. That would be self-defeating. Instead, this is what really constitutes the better part of our judgment – our ability to recollect, meticulously, those things that have not gone too well. The conversation that took place reminded me of one such excoriated detail of life. Not that it doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, it’s something that happens on a daily basis presumably, on a scale and magnitude truly inconceivable, but we don’t like to think about it. It’s safer relegated to the recesses of our under-graduate memories, never to be retrieved again. But I wouldn’t like to not put on record the seriously dangerous levels of extant labeling and libeling here. Some people, of course, have mastered the unenviable art more adeptly than others. From day one, it has been an interminable cycle of ‘So-and-so is a pseudo’, ‘So-and-so is a dope-head’ and ‘So-and-so is loose’ and ‘So-and-so is a snob’. Probably the most condemnable (and commonly used) label is ‘So-and-so is shady’. First of all, it’s an absolute mess. Various labels apply to individuals simultaneously and in some (more repugnant) cases, all of them are the collective brain-children of individual label-manufacturers, dolts propagating them at break-neck speed. It’s not something that one gradually gets acclimatized to. The first day itself is witness to an onslaught of labels mindlessly hurled in all directions by overzealous seniors who cannot contain the overwhelming impulse to regurgitate their personal opinion of others in college on unsuspecting first-years. After that, one can only imagine how the pace redoubles with time and ultimately reaches insurmountable heights. A friend, in that conversation, used the word ‘shady’ again. Perfect! This was probably my last opportunity to get it out in the open. The word is bandied about so often, I had to clarify what it means. Obviously, we seem to think that the word is legitimated by the fact that we use it. By this I mean that every person who uses it assumes that he or she authenticates it by simply labeling someone else with it. Ergo, using the word is giving yourself that harmfully erroneous and deceptive sense of authentication. The assumption is that the more someone uses it, the more he or she is distanced from that category and is therefore more acceptable. This self-congratulatory, self-validating gesture is near hypnotic. The more you run around like a headless chicken labeling others ‘shady’, the more you delude yourself into ratifying your own importance. Now, this friend who mentioned it is someone I like and enjoy being around, and her usage of the word probably has something to do with its doctrinaire, hypnotic proliferation – it’s used so often, you don’t even think twice about it - but what is particularly repugnant is the fact that some people use it to refer to others they don’t even know or have never even spoken to, as if they were a sanctioned authority to denigrate others arbitrarily based on nothing but an effulgent need to gratify a fledgling, pitiably crippled ego. It is strange, but it happens ever so often. The most contorted aspect of this is the fact that the ‘shady’ people have their own circle of friends, people who would not consider them ‘shady’, who, in turn, would refer to the original labelers as ‘shady’. Not in retaliation, as it were, but impulsively, of their own accord. So the acrimony is mutual. And doubly erroneous. Apparently, it’s not even relative anymore. Everyone is ‘shady’ regardless of the people to whom they are close, with whom they share their lives; people for whom, eventually, others unknown to them would fittingly deserve the label. Even the more garrulous people are ‘shady’ because, I am sure, there must be people out there who don’t know them and consequently think they are ‘weird’. The other label of course is ‘snob’. Let’s keep that aside, because it barely needs dissection. To put it simply, for the person who uses it, all those who do not know or make fatuous conversation with him or her are ‘snobs’. The underlying assumption is, only those who speak to you are people who are ‘nice’ and hence not ‘snobs’. The other remarkable, and slightly more hilarious, phenomenon is the ‘hot or not’ label. This, however, is not something I feel fit to comment on, because I think it abounds in the world outside, other than in the incestuous labeling-pogroms of college. But sometimes, and you know when it happens, people do it so blatantly, you’d think they were brought up on it. Besides the giggling that accompanies it, you also notice the way they look people over as they pass by or simply sit in the metro. There is something primarily wrong about it, and it is this (I don’t mean to be facetious): those who do this kind of thing really ought to take one good, long and lingering look at themselves first. If there’s any ounce of honesty in them, much diminished as it may be, they’ll probably realize how unconscionable their assuming the right to label others is. Now, one can say that all of this is exaggerated and generalized, but the fact of the matter is, we know generalized observations have greater credence in this area. Some might also say that there are certain common standards that apply to one and all, and that these may be used to label individuals in whatever way:To hell with these liars.


The Diplomat's Daughter said...

Yes, but remember - "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". Easier said than done, true, but its a very powerful sentiment.

Arjun Rajkhowa said...

True. I like that statement very much.