Have you ever been labeled as a geek? How about a nerd? Maybe someone once called you a dweeb? Or perhaps you’re more of a dork? You freak! You weirdo! You big ol’ egghead! Bookworm! Eccentric! Superbrain! Oddball! Poindexter! Urkel!
(Urkel? Really? Yeah, I went there. Just bear with me!)
Likely, someone’s hurled worse in your direction, no matter your background. In reality, though, what’s horrible about any of the above at the core of it? At some point in your life, no matter how nice you are, someone has tried to — or is going to try and — make you feel bad in spite of your best efforts and intentions. Remember, though: Carrying on in this fashion betrays more about them than it speaks about you.
It’s uncertain whether or not Eleanor Roosevelt first spoke these words, but their sentiment rings true regardless of origin:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Labels are bogus. Labels are bunk. I won’t go as far as to proclaim that we’re all unique snowflakes, but aside from sharing kinship over various interests and desires, we’re all somewhat universes unto ourselves. My reality’s not your reality. And if what we choose to do with our time in pursuit of happiness harms no one else, who’s to say that we’re wrong in the things that motivate us? People have a strange proclivity to focus on what divides us rather than what unites us. We see it in the heated political climate that always manifests during election season, and we see it when we’re in places where we’re forced to share air with people we’d normally avoid (like in high school, on public transportation, or at the DMV).
Maybe this xenophobic tendency seems like the default setting for human nature, but those among us who manage to rise above this petty trap usually leave behind a legacy that inspires the rest of us who strive for greater understanding of who we are and where we’re going. Our species practically buzzes with the potential to be so much better (we’re soaking in it!), but we’re easily distracted by our base needs and fears. A good dose of, as Aretha Franklin would say, R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way; respect for the self, and respect for those around us — whether they be “different” from us or not — is key.
Stereotypes are labels, and labels are bunk. Be the best you that you can be. Don’t let the cruelty of others be the obstacle course that suspends your happiness. Life’s too short to succumb to the insecurities of others.