Do not put a label on me, I am not a suitcase!

I like reading signs, especially because they are short.  I don’t like categorizing people, especially according to their abilities.  And if a sign does so, it confuses me, if not annoys. Why divide people if the message is meant to catch everybody’s attention?

It is in human nature that we categorize things, patterns and objects. However,   it is more sensitive when it comes to personal abilities. The sign I have come across recently says, “Intelligent people read!” It would be more understandable if the sign would elaborate what kind of pieces and how much exactly they read, in case I would like to affiliate myself to “intelligent people”.  There is nothing salient in those two words. However, as De Saussure explains, words have not much sense on their own; they become value laden in relation to others. Thus, the words “intelligent” and “read” can turn to a more meaningful game, when they are “on their position on the chessboard” (as cited in Chandler, 2002, p. 20) In our case the sign labels some as “intelligent who read” implying there are those who are less or not intelligent at all. In other words, by soaring some the slogan diminishes others. The better sign, for example, though banal, would be “Discover the reading world with us!” which is not separating, but embracing and involving.

The Pierce’s model of signs and symbols triangulates the form, the sense of the form and the meaning beyond the sign. He explains that it is not only what a symbol is and what it represents, but also how it is interpreted (in Chandler, 2002). For example, the sign “Smart people turn off their mobiles when they work!” raises the question, “If one turns the mobile, will he/she become smarter? Or, – Do all smart people turn off their mobiles when they work?”  Because the message is not calling to care about people working around, it is suggesting that if you want to be smart or look smart, then turn off your mobile, because that’s what smart people do. Now there is another sign, which I leave for you to contemplate on and share your thoughts in comments, “Turn off your mobiles, brilliant minds work!”

One might say that those are nothing more than signs, not many people read them. I believe in power of words, in their ability to build perceptions of oneself and others. The signs like these push us to subconsciously determine ourselves to one category inferring that there is another. Why divide people if a sign is meant to be for everyone?

4 thoughts on “Do not put a label on me, I am not a suitcase!

  1. Dear @aigulazhigaliyeva,

    WOW! Thank you so much for your thought-provoking post. The last question calls for an immediate reply and doesn’t let you just scroll down without answering it.
    I totally agree with you that words contain a certain meaning and we should be cautious when we play with them.
    Taking into account uniqueness (in the way we think and perceive the world) of each of us, one should be extremely careful when creating this sort of signs.
    Regarding the “Turn off your mobiles, brilliant minds work!” sign, it feels like the author wanted to emphasize the his higher status and undermine whose who use cell phones.
    I’m curious about your interpretation 🙂


  2. Thank you Aigul for sharing your thoughts about categorizing people. There are indeed some hiden meanings and values to draw from these casual daily signs. But we have used to the world of categorizing as well as grouping people from very beginning of our schools, as our teachers used to labelling students as ‘good’ or ‘poor’. These signs are small but can have substantial influene on our under-consciousness if we do not observe as well as relfect our thoughts constantly.


  3. I agree @lenerakezlevli and @sharapat812, it is burning and substantial, because hidden and involuntary, and goes beyond the sign language. The passive tendency to put people into categories, albeit with a posh name, is devaluing. It establishes false understanding, alienating one from another. This might be a reason why “good” and “poor” younger students do not usually mix up at school.

    A famous TV host once said, “If we take off the labels, we’ll see that we are more similar than different”.


  4. Great work, Aigul (5/5). Your addition of Saussure’s ideas really adds some meat to your discussion of signs and social labeling. Very insightful and well-written.

    One minor grammar comment: Be careful about using articles with possessive nouns (The Pierce’s model of signs…). The possessive pronoun serves the role of defining article. We’ll never say “The my backpack,” “Our today’s presentation” or “The Pierce’s model”.


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