Developed for ages 8+ (Scouting: Cubs, Scouts, Explroers/Ventures, and adults).

Inherently, labels are good things. Their purpose is to inform us, to provide us with useful information, or to warn us.

At one time or another, we’ve all been labeled something, or labeled someone else something, that wasn’t accurate, and quite possibly, hurtful.

We walk around wearing our human bodies that, for the most part, look just like everyone else’s. Thats how we recognise each other as human, the fundamental truth is we are all alike.

We then apply odd concepts as labels… What do our eyes see? Colour, skin, weight, looks, hair… then we judge further, who are they, why are they here? What are their values? What does our media tell us about them? All of this shapes the way we see.

We sometimes think we can tell someone’s political affiliation, or social standing by the car they drive or where and how they live.

We see the young black kid in a hoodie and label him a criminal, or at the very least avoid making eye contact. We see the person with tattoos and spiked hair and label them a freak. We see the awkward girl sitting by herself and label her a loser. We see the boy who was born female but is expressing himself as male and label him ‘gender dysphoric’. We see the masculine man and assume he’s straight.

Who are these labels for? Do they serve any purpose? Do they accurately paint the whole picture of the individual?

If they do serve a purpose, I think it’s a self- serving purpose. It serves the purpose of protecting what we perceive as normal or acceptable. Why are we so threatened by anyone who is different from us? Is that what it is? Fear? Uneducated guessing? Or simply a way to push one’s political motivations over another.

Perhaps it’s not fear at all. Perhaps it’s envy. Even if we don’t care for the way another person presents themselves, the reality that some may be more in touch with their authentic self, and feel the freedom to express their uniqueness, makes us feel envious. Maybe we wish that we had the courage to do the same.

Rather than presuming, assuming, judging, and labeling someone, why don’t we try to be more tolerant, curious, and compassionate? In my experience, tolerance, curiosity, and compassion lead to trust and understanding. Which is the ultimate path to long lasting friendships.

Labelling things is okay, and often necessary. Labelling people is not. There is already one label that defines us all: Human.

The following activity explores this theme with a view to dismissing of labels.

Objectives 

Refugees arriving in the UK often face all manner of prejudice and discrimination. You may have come across this before in the media, in political debates or even at school or in the playground. It can be especially hard for ‘refugee’ children to settle into a new school or youth group.

Participants will be enabled to: 

  • Understand that young people’s enjoyment of their rights can often be affected by their circumstances and/or the attitude of others.
  • Develop a sense of awareness of their identity.
  • Relate difficult situations in their personal experience to the possible feelings and experience of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Preparation

Photocopy the poem by Rubimbo Bungwe for each sub-group of 4-5.

Running the activity

Split the participants into groups of 4-5 and encourage them to think about their own name.

Ask probing questions such as: 

  • What does your name mean to you?
  • Have you ever chosen to be called something different, eg a shortened
    name or even a nickname?
  • Have other people ever labelled you instead of using your name?  (Sensitivity: be alert at this point to the possibility of participants using this as an opportunity to bully others, particularly around things such as skin and hair colour. ie. Ginger.)
  • If yes, why do you think that they did it? How did it make you feel? What can you do to stop it?

Hand out the poem and have one member of each group read it to the others.

Encourage discussion based around topics like ‘What does she think about the label given to her?’ and ‘What could people do differently to help Rumbimbo, the author of the poem below feel at home?’

———

Refugee

So I have a new name – refugee.

Strange that a name should take away from me My past, personality and hope.

Strange refuge this.

So many seem to share this name – refugee Yet we share so many differences 

I find no comfort in my new name.

I long to share my past, restore my pride, To show, I too, in time, will offer more Than I have borrowed.

For now the comfort that I seek

Resides in the old yet new name

I would choose – friend. 

by Rubimbo Bungwe, aged 14, from Zimbabwe, 2002 

This activity fits to the following Global Sustainable Development Goals: