Ted Konnerth: Labels and why we use them
I’ve always been intrigued by the use of labels, an attempt to take an issue and isolate it into a single word or phrase, evoking emotions from either side of the political or societal perspectives. I thought I’d take a few labels and clarify the resonance of the emotions versus the actual meaning of the words.
Let’s start with the ultra-trendy:
Woke: Merriam Webster defines it as past tense of wake and “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” I’m on board with being awake, and I’m fired up about being aware and actively attentive to important facts and issues. I honestly believe if the majority of the population was more attentive to issues, we’d likely be far more acceptant of alternative interpretations of those issues.
Antifa: Merriam Webster defines it as “a group or person actively opposing fascism.” Once again, I’m totally on board with being against fascism, a unilateral party led by an authoritarian leader.
Socialist: Merriam Webster defines it as a believer in socialism, a way of organizing a government where major industries are owned and controlled by the government instead of by individuals and private corporations — similar to communism. In practice, socialism has rarely existed in history, with the closest examples of Sweden and Denmark being better described as socialistic democracies. In reality, socialist has just become a label to smear politicians who want to solve the issues of income inequity, accessibility of health care and equality of opportunity.
As our society has become more polarized, it’s become apparent that anyone with a microphone has become angry and loud. Our ability to discuss and listen to alternative thoughts and ideas has become impaired by the blare of social media and commentary that is loosely described as news.
It occurred to me that “woke” is a term used by the right wing to describe someone who is somehow irrationally focused on the common good of others. Since we are now officially on opposing sides of life, would it be correct to label the right-wingers as non-woke or simply asleep? To follow that thought, if you hate antifa, does that make you a fascist? If you hate socialists, does that make you a fascist?
But the far bigger issue is why do we normalize language that demeans others and otherwise minimizes their opinions and presence in society? A true democracy is a government of the people. If we can only recognize the presence of those who yell the loudest and depreciate our status to labels, then it’s no longer a government of the people.
I believe we need to transition away from labels. It’s silly, and it’s demeaning. Even avowed social democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders are not advocating for a government takeover of industry. Their position is to address the apparent inequities that a capitalistic society is destined to create without oversight. When capital is involved, the temptation to maximize wealth and concentrate wealth is overwhelming to many. A just society needs to address and support those who can’t participate in capitalism. Our government needs to add guardrails to ensure that everyone has an equal chance at life — not guaranteed wealth or excessive advantages — but just an opportunity to strive for equal. It’s in our constitution. Let’s get back to goodness, kindness and respect for all of us. I’ve always believed that kindness grows much faster than capital if given a chance.
Ted Konnerth’s column “Centricity” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Konnerth is the founder and CEO of an executive search firm and author of a monthly newsletter for the electrical industry. He lives in Silverthorne. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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