People like to label things. It makes their life easier to be able to put other people in a box and expect them to not be able to explore other boxes. The biggest problem with labels is that they’re merely assumptions.
I had experienced this concept in high school, only to realise later on that labels on people are actually quite unfair.
Some of my classmates would often sneak out of the house at night to hang out with their friends. Another would come to school with nails painted as black as the dark soul they claim to have. Other times, I would accidentally walk into a cloud of smoke at the back of the restrooms at school. A group of teens would be crouching next to the drainage, staring at me like deer caught in the headlights, ashes falling off their cigarettes. These group of kids were commonly labelled as ‘rebels’. It would be easy to accept this identification for them as it is, but were they really?
Take my story, for example.
For as long as I could remember, I was the obedient daughter. Coming home after school, I would laze around, procrastinate on the homework – eventually finishing it before sleeping. My parents didn’t even have to worry about me mingling with the ‘wrong’ crowd. I was always home before 8 in the evening. No, my parents didn’t have to worry about me sneaking out of the house like my classmates. They didn’t have to worry about me being pressured into smoking by my peers. They didn’t have to worry about the private parties in penthouses my fellow classmates were always excited to go to during the weekends.
The reason for my being home most of the time after school was due to a certain item which kept me occupied for years: a bass guitar. I suppose my ‘teenage rebellion’ came in the disguise of a bass guitar. My genuine curiosity in said musical instrument stemmed from rock bands my older sister listened to in her room: The Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer and Gorillaz, to name a few.
As she was away most of the time, I would grab a few of these CDs and listened to them in my room. The selected musical instrument that I bought at that time was because of a silly, but logical reason.
The bass guitar only had four strings.
Hence logically, it would have been easier to play than a normal six-stringed guitar. My father eyed suspiciously at my chosen instrument on the day of my 14th birthday. He asked me if I was sure that this bass guitar was what I had wanted. I nodded fervently.
It was a Squier Jaguar Bass, the lower priced version of the very famous Fender guitars. After school, I would come home excitedly, plugging in the amplifier and practiced into the night. Homework ultimately became untouched, much to my teachers’ disappointment.
At that time, only my close friends knew I had begun playing the bass. Yet, they joked around so much in class that after a period of time, everyone had found out that I knew how to play the bass guitar. Accordingly, I was labelled as the ‘girl who plays the bass’, which was fine, I could roll with that. However, it did not go in my favour when my circle of friends consisted of three people who shouldn’t be together at all times:
The first was a girl who regularly talked back at the teacher. She vandalised classroom furniture. She rolled her eyes at school rules and regulations. Once a week, she would regularly check in with the disciplinary teacher for breaking a rule or two.
I couldn’t quite figure out how I managed to become friends with her. I also couldn’t figure out why her nonconforming ways never rubbed off on me.
The second girl was an absolute prankster. Every morning, she would pick out snails from the bushes near our classrooms and line them up on top of the teacher’s table before the homeroom teacher came in to sign everyone’s attendance. She would also subtly catch a lizard flitting across the wall and fling it across the room, causing a major uproar in the all-girls’ classroom.
The third girl was a social butterfly. A complete opposite of myself, as she would hop back and forth, table to table, mingling around with other classmates, before coming back to my table to eat her lunch. She was dubbed as the loudmouth of our class.
And then there was my quiet, quiet self. Ironically, the four of us sat at the back of the classroom and was marked as the noisiest bunch. Even though, in actual reality, it was entirely the social butterfly doing all the talking. I suppose you can imagine why it was so quick for people to automatically place a tag on the four of us for being delinquents.
It distressed me the most because I wasn’t. I only had a bass guitar.
Thus, I was begrudgingly stuck with being identified as a delinquent student for most of my high school years. The greatest irony of all time as I had never once broken any school rules. I handed in my homework on time (most of the time). I had averagely satisfactory grades. Yet, every teacher who had taught us would wave their hand at the corner of the room and referred to us as the mischief-makers.
Unfortunately, it again did not help during a school performance. Two days before the performance, the band that was about to play on stage needed a substitute bass player. My prankster of a friend called out and pointed at me. I realised, sooner or later, that my friends would get me killed from embarrassment.
After much harassment and coercion, I had agreed to sub for the band’s bass player. The day after the biggest stage fright of my life, I was stuck with an even reinforced label of the delinquent bass player.
As I look back at my so-called delinquent and rebellious days of high school, I realised how unreasonable the concept of labels is. People are complex, multifaceted and exceedingly multidimensional. While we apply categorisation of people, we see a narrow view of such a complicated human being.
My rule-breaker of a friend, wasn’t just a rule-breaker. She gave me kind and supporting words when I had a panic attack backstage before the school performance. My prankster friend was an excellent listener, giving you undivided attention when you were talking to her. She was hardworking and had impeccable grades. My loud, social butterfly friend would quiet down if you handed her a paintbrush and a canvas. She painted beautifully in her free time.
It just goes to show that labels aren’t necessarily accurate. Most of the time, they are mere assumptions. Labels only create the reality that one assumes to be true. If there was less labelling and more compassion and understanding, maybe I wouldn’t have been called the delinquent bass player. Maybe my friends could instead have been called the loyal one, the understanding one and the creative one.