Tear Off the Labels and Let’s Do American

by on July 19, 2022 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Joni Halpern

On some days, I am conservative.  On other days, liberal, or  maybe progressive.  At times I believe in God.  At other times, I am plagued with doubt.  I believe in my right as a woman to govern the processes of my own body, but I regard abortion as a hard personal decision.

I am moderate on some days, and furiously righteous on others.  I almost always believe in the goodness of others, but sometimes I am hard-pressed to find it.  I do not wave the flag; I do not even salute it, because I never want what I owe to my country to become something rote, as if once I recite the words, it’s all that I expect of myself.  Like all Americans underneath the skin, I defy labels.

But labels are what we live by these days.  Red states.  Blue states.  Right-wing.  Left-wing.  Christian right.  Atheist left.  Gender-conforming.  Gender non-conforming.  Oligarchs.  Working people.  White supremacists.  Black Lives Matter supporters.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Influencers.  Followers.  We have been sliced and diced into a thousand different labels and sold to the highest bidder in tranches of information that help others label us.  Once a  label is applied, there is nothing else about us that anyone wants to know.

Part of the problem is that our whole economy, our political system, and now, the bulk of our social connections are collected, counted and deciphered by computer.  If we buy underwear, someone somewhere in the world wants to know the size, style, price, color, fabric, decoration, point of sale location and whether we announced that we were happy and comfortable in our skivvies.

It’s not that these distant folks care about us.  They care about collecting enough information about us so they can label us with respect to their own ambitions.  He wears boxer shorts with Homer Simpson donut design.  She wears lace-waist cotton cheeky panties.  Put that together with hundreds of other pieces of personal information we impart to the internet, and people who have never met us can label us one way or another.

The sad thing is, the labels are not helping us get closer to each other.  In fact, they are tearing us apart.

A Red State voter who works two jobs to keep a roof over his kids’ head is just as heroic as a Blue State voter who does the same thing.  But they hate each other, and they each think the other guy is responsible for making this country harder to live in.  A liberal who visits her mom in the nursing home every night before going home from work is as good a person as a conservative who does the same thing.

But they both suspect the other of not caring about anyone else in society.  A Christian may pray each night before he goes to bed, the same as his Muslim countryman, but each one fears the other hates him.  The atheist who brings food to her elderly neighbors is thought by religious followers to be bereft of goodness.

Aren’t we tired of these labels and the judgments we make based upon them?  Aren’t we sick of calling each other liars and morons and racists and worse?  When are we going to stop judging each other by the collection of individual, momentary, isolated acts that, in themselves, do not make up a total person or a total life?

I want to move past labels, even the label “American.”  Instead of calling myself an American, I want to do what is really American.  I want to participate in my democratic form of government.  I want to email or write my representatives, regardless of their political affiliation.  I want to tell them what I am worried about.  I want to comment on their conduct.  I want them to speak up to them.

I want to sit down with my neighbors, my family and my friends and talk about candidates and issues on the ballot before it is time to vote.  I want to go into the voting booth, or fill out my mail-in ballot, knowing what I am being asked to do, and who is behind the request.  I want to hear what others around the table think of things.

I want to accept the fact that I cannot be perfect, that I cannot change everything, but that if I try my best to see my countrymen as integrated human beings, instead of labels, they may come to life as real persons who are just as interested in me as I am in them.

I reject the idea that to be an American today, all I have to do is fly the flag, repeat the  salute, get teary when I hear “God bless America,” and condemn those whom I have labeled as different and therefore, unworthy.  I want to tear off the labels and “do American.”  I want to belong to my country again.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeffeck July 20, 2022 at 6:12 pm

Thank you for your article. I’m afraid America will have a lot more waking up to do first. They need to see who’s pulling the strings on both sides


Geoff Page July 21, 2022 at 11:14 am

A great deal of wisdom well said, Ms. Halpern, truly.

Sadly, those who really need to hear this won’t because it is on this left-wing, progressive news blog. If you could just get a right wing news blog to carry this, there might be hope for one or two.


kh July 21, 2022 at 4:17 pm

So only conservatives need an attitude adjustment? You might represent the very problem she just wrote about.

Our political party system was invented by those in power to suppress those who aren’t, and it especially disenfranchises moderates. Let’s start with ranked-choice elections and stop rewarding extremism.


Geoff Page July 21, 2022 at 4:59 pm

I never said anyone needed an attitude adjustment. All I said was that people who should see this well written, impassioned piece probably won’t because it would not be suitable for the the media much of the country listens to. I was not concerned about the progressive folks, because it is here at least.

It would be great to stop rewarding extremism but trump’s election made it clear to a lot of people that extremism works. Social media is killing society.


Sorry not Sorry July 22, 2022 at 10:11 am

“Social media is killing society”. That’s the best way to put it Geoff. I gave up all social media 5 or 6 years ago, and immediately became much happier. I know I am missing out on a few things that are being posted from family that is some distance away. In my opinion it is a small price to pay for not having to deal with the idiots who will gladly sit behind a keyboard and say things that they normally wouldn’t say to your face, or the half-truths and outright lies that people tell just because they associate with Party R or Party D.


Joni Halpern July 24, 2022 at 10:08 pm

I’d like to thank the people who took the time to read this commentary. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I agree with those who worry that social media is “killing society.” It is killing our desire to know each other. It is feeding our desire to be known by others, albeit in the most superficial ways. But more than that, it is killing our faith in each other. Anything we say or do that can be construed as mistaken, erroneous, unwise, ungrateful, or in any way lacking becomes a judgment upon our whole person. No human being can ever be loved if perfection is the standard. No human being can even be “good” if perfection is the standard. It gives me hope in humanity to see readers like you tease out the arguments and still continue to engage in the discussion, even when someone criticizes you. You are my heroes.


Geoff Page July 25, 2022 at 11:12 am

I just watched The Social Dilemma, I recommend it for everyone. It is eye-opening, to put it mildly.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: