Thursday, January 18, 2018

Labels, they define, confine and bind.

This country is all about giving things a label. Everything has to have a label. We don't know how to understand something unless it has a label.
The late 70's early 80's seem to be the start of really putting a label on things. It gave purpose and reason to things that otherwise would have no logic.
Over the years the labeling has taken on new meaning. We go so far as to give it a hash tag. In the "old days" that hash tag was a pound sign. Now labels are used to create worldwide movements, and the labels give meaning and purpose. A chance to give us understanding.

Truth is that is not always the case. Labels can be used to define a situation, confine a person to perception, and bind a person to society's beliefs.

My formative years were through the 7'0's-80's. I ended up with the dreaded "f" word label. Yep, I was a foster child. People during that time period seemed to feel everyone had to be exactly the same. Cookie cutter families, in perfect homes, with perfect parents. Anything outside that garnered you a label. That meant there was something seriously wrong with you.

At that time being a foster kid was an anomaly. Very few had ever heard of it, let alone understood why a child didn't live with their parents, which left the meaning open to imagination. People can be so cruel when they don't understand a label, most have the fortitude to restrain their mouth from their thoughts. Kids on the other hand tend to blurt what their head is thinking.

 Many kids had no problem telling me on a regular basis I was a foster kid, so there was something wrong with me. One girl even went so far as to taunt me in front of an entire class how my parents didn't love me, that was why I had to live with another family.
Feeling like someone had just shoved me into a box and nailed the lid shut, I exploded. Yep, went ballistic in front of the entire eighth grade class. I felt such shame that day, like a stain had been etched into my soul. Her words did exactly what she meant for them to do. She labeled me, explained the reason for the label and the consequences of why I was such an unfit person in society.

Very few understood that living with my family was a life threatening situation.  It was easier to live with perception of what people thought of me being a foster kid then explain what really caused the strange family dynamics. I eventually graduated high school and left that dreadful past behind.

Years later I was once more reminded of the label that was bestowed upon me years earlier. Only this time that label held a different meaning and outcome.
I had spent a great deal of time remaking myself after school. I became a normal person, with a husband, kids, business, business owner, a person about town I was. Gone was the stigma of being a foster kid. I could make things happen. I was a productive person, with ambition. Someone that was going places.

Then out of nowhere poof, someone decided to remind me of my roots. My stepfather had died and I was expected to attend the funeral. Doing the proper thing I attended. I walked in as a business professionals and saw the other business owners who I knew from working with them in a business setting. The looks on their faces was priceless. All wondering why I was standing there. Complete shock set in when they realized "I was the little girl the family had that had disappeared more than ten years ago". Some told me they thought I had died.

Nope I'm right here. Not dead. Well where have I been and why didn't I tell them who I was. Again, here came the cuss word again, I was a foster kid. Didn't live with them. Didn't want to be associated with them. None of their business.

What brought the whole situation home was the day the bank president walked into my office and proceeded to grill me on who I was. Like I had lied to him or something. Nope never lied, never changed my name, just didn't want to deal with the labels or what they meant. I didn't want special treatment, pity, or anything else. I just wanted fair treatment, equal footing, a level start just like everyone else.

That day changed everything, once again the battle was on. Those that realized who I was and what had happened to me as a child either ignored me, or gave me that pity stare. All of a sudden the one that was ambitious was not quite good enough. I wasn't entitled to the same chances. I didn't have what it took to be a leader. Again someone actually had the balls to come into my office and tell me that.

Something very painful occurred to me that day. I was never going to out run, work hard enough, do enough of the right things to shed this coat of a label. That label society had given me, defined me as a person, and were intent on keeping me where they thought all foster children should conduct their lives. Really who was I to decide I was better than my background. The only why to shed the label was to leave and start over. That is exactly what I did. No labels, I was just some poor slub making my way in the world just like everyone else.

I despise labels. I get angry every time I hear someone feel then need to describe something with a label, giving an action a purpose or meaning as if it can never be changed.

We've heard a lot over the years when people describe their pets to us. Some are just so funny. We can see the pet's personality in what people describe to us. Like our own pets we see the funny in how pet's live their lives mixed in our own family. How pets ingrain themselves into our family fabric.

Sometimes we hear the label. One person described their dog to us as 'used pet' that needed moved.
Like they were telling us that pet wasn't worth as much as a pure breed. So that dog wasn't entitled to the same care, love and comfort as a new dog.

Maybe the inclination was the cost of transport should be less because it was a used dog. Not that the dog required the same space, care, walks, and feeding as the regular dogs. Still others will describe their dog to us a rescued pet. Yes, most people have the absolute best interest of the pet at heart. What many don't realized by using the label "rescued" every time they describe their pet, a certain mental thought process goes with that label. It may be unconscious but most of the time its still there.

 I understand the fear, anger and uncertainty that rescued pets have and yes there are things you have to keep your pet from doing or going while they are acclimating itself to your family.
 Animals don't go around thinking oh I'm a rescue. So I'm entitled to potty in the house, bark excessively, bite, have more treats., jump on people. because I'm special. What they want is to feel safe, secure and know their needs will be met. Everything else we give them is gravy in their eyes
Look at your pet just as you do any other family member you love. Not where it came from or what it went through, no labels. Yes, keep it in the back of your head why a pet may react a certain way. Training and reprogramming a rescued pet is a topic for another day :)

A pet that has been labeled doesn't have the ability to get up and walk away to get a fresh start. They are depending on you to give them that fresh start.

When you introduce your pet as a rescue what you are saying is he's different, damaged, please be gentle. What its interpreted as by others is, what's wrong with that pet. Is the pet going to hurt others. Should I be worried?  Because there is a stigma in society that says a rescued pet is a damaged pet, unwanted animal, not worthy of main stream wants and desires.  All the pet feels is the unexplained anxiety from the new person.

The word rescued is a verb not a noun. Someone rescued the pet, vetted it, gave it shots. You adopted the pet. The pet is now a member of your family, who just wants the same love, attention and care as everyone else with no labels.

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