June 8, 2014

Where do I fit in? Looking Beyond Labels.

Who am I? Where do I fit in? How do I fit in?


These are life’s eternal questions – especially for human beings on the path of self-discovery and also for those living cross-cultural lifestyles.

It’s so easy to put labels on ourselves so we fit in with a group.

  • We like mountain biking – so we join a mountain biking group.
  • We are crazy about eco-travel and join a eco-travel club and travel with them.
  • We are just fascinated with a musical band and join their ‘troupe’ and travel around with them. (ie. Grateful Dead)
  • We identify ourselves as Americans so where ever we live in the world, we seek out other Americans.
  • We speak English, so where ever we are in the world we hang out with English speakers.
  • We affiliate with a particular religion and where ever we live we seek out that group.
All these activities are natural and normal. They provide good places to start to find common ground with others. But, I have always noticed a problem arises when we become over-attached to these labels and think that the people with these labels are:
  • The only friends I can have, because who else on this planet Earth has anything in common with me?
  • The people in this group have the best culture, the best values and live the most moral or interesting lives. No one else does.
  • People in this group understand me. Others do not.
Let’s remember that such thinking does not promote a cross-cultural lifestyle- it can promote key-hole thinking because it pegs people into groups, limiting their potential and our own potential. It’s also these thoughts that spur such dangerous groups like cults and religious extremists.

The irony here is that many people who live a cross-cultural life do so because initially they found something worthwhile outside their group- they went above and beyond the labels they and society put on them and formed relationships with people others in their in-crowd found ‘risky’ or ‘different’ or even ‘unacceptable’ for a variety of reasons.

If we are reminded of why we came into a cross-cultural lifestyle- that’s a value of open mindedness, a willingness to think different and constantly remember that just because someone has a different label it doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground. It's also not a question of being accepted by others, but allowing others to accept us and tearing down our own walls.

Often some of the most fulfilling relationships are those we have with people outside our comfort zone, having different labels. Why? Because we realize behind and beneath that label that person DOES have actually quite a bit in common with us. We were happy to discover this hidden treasure inside them, inside of ourselves, and we were happy they gave us the benefit of the doubt to get to know us too.

Trapping ourselves within labels limits our ability to experience new things and make new friends.

Is it scary? Of course it is! That’s why many people over- identify with their label and stick to familiar territory in their own identified group.

Is it worthwhile? Well, that depends on you and how you approach the situation and what you get out of it.

Quite frankly, writing about this topic itself is quite scary as it’s a controversial topic. This is truer today than ever when people have more freedom to identify themselves any which way they want. Once people ‘find themselves’ and attach a label to it, it’s hard to let that go for obvious reasons. But, this topic is timely and timeless. If we want to encourage world-peace we have to look within to look with –out (outside). What can we each do differently today to promote peace inside ourselves and with others who are in our group- and those who are not in our group?


Thanks for reading.

Please share your thoughts.

Photo credits European Parliament @flickr under creative commons.


Related Potsts:
Staying True to yourself while adjusting to another culture



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