Label Cans, Not People
I was reading something the other day when I came across one word – one little word – and it was as though I had an epiphany. It was the word invalid. The word happened to be on the instruction sheet that came with my brand new disability parking permit that I will use for a limited time pre- and post-surgery. (Notice how I had to qualify that, as one who is thinking positively and afraid to be permanently disabled?!)
The context the word was used in was, in-val-id (in-ˈva-ləd), and means not effective or authoritative. The instructions made it clear that if the permit was damaged, unreadable, etc. that it would become invalid. In other words, it wouldn’t be of any use any more; it would “lose its effectiveness and authority.”
Hmm, I thought; if the disability permit were to be injured, it would be an in-va-lid: (ˈin-və-ləd) just like me; meaning suffering from a disease or disability (illegible in its case). Just then I became unnerved. I thought about the words being identical in how they were printed, but with different pronunciations and, supposedly, meanings. If one were able to use those definitions interchangeably, well, that just wouldn’t be right at all.
I immediately felt the conspiracy theorist in me arise. I felt defensive wondering if the wordsmiths who created these two words initially meant for the definitions to be interchangeable as well, before it became politically incorrect to define a disabled person in such a terrible manner. In that case, was I also (even if temporarily) considered in-val-id (in-ˈva-ləd) or not good for the use I was intended for anymore? A throw-away? Something needing to be replaced? The nerve!
Had invalid been on any other material I was reading besides a disability parking permit at the time, I most likely would not have made the homographic connection. It would not have grabbed my attention at all. Obviously, my sensitivity was heightened after just being labeled disabled, as evident by the parking permit in front of me.
I think that’s exactly how many of us feel with labels; especially as we grow older. Labels make us sensitive. Sensitive to what others think of us. Sensitive to stereotypes we may have bought into as a child that have laid dormant until someone comes along and labels us as old.
Wowza! That’s a waker-upper for the person who has never thought of themselves as old regardless of chronological age. Being personally labeled awakens many things within us, for better or worse; labels that are deemed necessary by demographer-types.
I prefer no labels at all. I am determined to remain a person of strength, value and worth until the day I die – despite any non-consensual labels that may be bestowed upon me. I would like to make all labels on people invalid!