When I was young I had a label making toy. I went around the house printing labels galore: “book,” “train,”… I just enjoyed sticking labels on everything. As I got older I realized there are people who want to label others as I labeled objects: conservative, liberal, young, old, extremist, moderate, etc.
We use labels to differentiate each other and help us feel like we do or don’t belong. The problem is, labels tend to be inaccurate. I am sure some would call me conservative, which would connote ‘resistant to change, reluctant to accept new ideas.’ But I don’t see myself that way.
I alsoÂ find our use of the labels “right” and “left” to be misleading. The usage of those labels date to the French Revolution, when those on the right supported the king, those on the left did not. Over time newer, more radical positions were labeled left and more traditional positions, right. On this spectrum right and left also fail to describe me.
So if labels don’t do a good job of helping us understand the beliefs of another person, what does?
Principles. Principles are foundational assumptions about what is right or wrong, effective or ineffective, etc. Principles inform actions. We use our principles to choose between solutions to problems because our principles help us see what ideas and things we value.
I’ll use myself as an example of why principles are better than labels at building understanding. EarlierÂ I said that I didn’t feel I fit into the label conservative or right wing. My main reason for saying this is that I feel that both words suggest an unwillingness to change. I, however, don’t feel uneasy with change; in fact, I believe we need to look for new and innovative ways to solve our problems. One principle I use to determine which solutions and new ideas I think are good: problems are not solved by reducing personal freedom and accountability. Simply put, any solution that takes from me my freedom to life, liberty, or property I will fight.
There are other principles I also use when deciding on new ideas. The important thing about principles is that they mean something to the individual. Principles are like banners people are willing to fight for, instead of labels that people fight about.
Labels do have their role in helping simplify the process of stating our positions, but when we allow the label to take precedent over the principle we lose the ability for deeper conversation and better understanding within our own, or without our labels.