Like it or not, I’m different from you and I’m okay with that. Your name, your age, your gender, your ethnicity and occupation may be different. We may have different interests, talents and abilities too. But should we let the systems of the world dictate how we interact with each other?
I accept my weaknesses and the imperfect parts of me. I’m a work in progress like everyone else, and we all should work on the parts we can improve. I also realise that people may disagree with me on certain ideas or simply not like things about me. I'm okay with that and I think I should accept this reality.
It is an option to spend time dwelling on how I am different. I’m not ‘normal’, whatever that means, and I’m okay with that. People give me a weird look because my hands are positioned funny or my speech sounds weird. People think I’m lost when I'm out on my own.
Someone should be with me because I use a wheelchair? They think. I could go on and explain all the negative and disappointing reactions I get from some strangers and bog myself down by writing all my complaints about life.
Instead, let me save myself time and pain and just write about one complaint I have. I don’t appreciate being labelled because I don't fit into one label. What annoys me the most is when we use labels to generalize about individuals.
Now, I embrace the idea that we’re all different and unique. I believe God wanted diversity and He designed our differences. King David wrote “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;…” (Psalms chapter 139, verse 14).
Secular vs Gospel
My problem is not that we make distinctions among ourselves, rather the way we view our differences is what I’d like to offer some thoughts on. I’ve come to realise that the way the world sees diversity is not the way Jesus intended diversity to be seen.
I think the concept and behaviour of labelling and categorizing people is worldly because when I consider the Gospel message, I don't see that this way of looking at diversity fits.
When we live in Christ, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians chapter 3, verse 28).
We talk a lot about diversity in the world today. That is a good thing. The negative attitudes toward diversity are not really discussed, but they still exist. People may not acknowledge or admit that at times we still slap blanket labels on others. But, it is still a real issue.
People can label and categorize one another in their minds for one of two reasons, maybe more. One reason is that people want to differentiate themselves from groups they may dislike or despise. The “us” vs “them” mentality, like one skin colour vs another or abled body vs physically impaired.
These differences exist, but how we treat one another should not be defined by these differences. The secular world makes a big deal of our differences and celebrates diversity, which is great. However, sometimes I feel people can praise diversity so much that they overlook the individual.
The world has a habit of talking about people in terms of people groups. Rather than individuals with certain characteristics, interests, ethnicities and backgrounds.
Jesus modelled the language we should use, “…Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mathew chapter 22, verse 39).
I think today’s society would prefer to generalize and use the term “people” (a group). Instead, the term “neighbour” (an individual) is applied in this verse. So, for me, love the individual as yourself is what this verse implies.
A label as an identity
Another reason people use labels is to find belonging. Sometimes people want to be part of something bigger than themselves, so they attach themselves to a label. Others take on the label that they associate with as their identity.
However, everybody is complex. We have different strengths and weaknesses, personalities, interests, hobbies and so on. So, how could we possibly reduce ourselves or others to one label?
That is silly! I have cerebral palsy a condition which impairs my ability to walk and use my hands. However, to say Manuele is a “cerebral palsy guy” may be true, yet wrong.
Even to say, Manuele is a “Samoan guy” or “wheelchair user” or “Christian guy” won’t do me justice. I am all these things and more. I will resist being labelled and will stand against the attitude of labelling.
God created us uniquely
I think we should always enjoy our individuality. Embrace all our different parts that make us who we are. Because as we look at the Bible, we see that God created us as individuals; He designed our individuality.
Each of us with our own personalities, gifts, skills and strengths. God also cares about our weaknesses, limitations and impairments. Because God can shine through our weaknesses just as much as He shines through our strengths
The different parts of our lives add colour and excitement to life just like our unique individuality adds flavour to this world.
Manuele Teofilo lives in South Auckland with his parents and siblings. He has graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Human Services. He enjoys getting around in his electric wheelchair and having fun with people.