Monday musing 230 - The tyranny of labels - 2
A few responses on the previous blogs from readers who responded veered towards the dimension of labels as understood primarily in terms of the vice like grip of 'brands' in our increasingly possession-centric lives. It would be facetious on my part if not puerile if i said that i am untouched by its venomous fangs. There are strong voices on the uselessness and corrupting influences of the culture of brands by authors like Naomi Klien in the book 'No Logo' and subsequently by Jonathan Baskin in 'Branding works only on cattle'. However it is also clear that no body is listening because the epidemic of brands is pervading our lives in more hideous ways than imaginable.
The last blog however was not written with brands in mind as much as it was written keeping the issue of identity in focus. Let me attempt a rejoinder.
Labels are used by us to give ourselves the comfort of identity. Like nationality, religion, caste, designation. They give us anchors to hold on to in a tumult called life however ephemeral and facile they may be. The trouble and my contention is that they start to define us sooner than we think. Most labels are man made and are made to fulfill the sociological need to 'belong' or 'feel important'. Communities of all kinds are sociological labels. Without the comfort of 'belonging' man is most likely to float.
Labels in the corporate world takes the form of designations and everything that comes along with it. As I see it and one can always disagree with this stance is that, designations which perhaps were imagined to provide a surrogate of grades of expertise have become an end in itself. It has started to become an extension of identity so much so that there is amoeba like proliferation of them. Imagine for an example the case of 'Assistant' Manager being different from a 'Deputy' manager while the incumbent does exactly the same job!! Organisations create such structures because it appears to fulfill some subconscious human need of getting a 'bigger label'.
I was told by a colleague last week that the way Korean culture works is that they reduce the size of the cabin of a leader if he is considered to be underperforming. The implied humiliation is punitive enough! Yet one more case of label. A few years ago i know of a friend who lampooned his promotion in terms of these labels by lamenting 'does it mean that i can have the privilege of single occupancy room during conventions'. Just imagine the way human mind works.
The point i make is how labels pin us down, how labels make us think and respond, how labels binds us complex web of mental subterfuge - instead of liberating us. The more labels we need to feel important and respected the more precarious is our self esteem. It makes us fragile and susceptible to hurt. It is anything but liberating.
Jaat na poocho saadhu ki, pooch lijiyo gyaan
mol karo talwaar ka, padi rehan do myaan
(dont ask the caste of the sage, ask for his wisdom
the dagger is more important than the scabbard)