Label Cans, Not People
I was reading something one 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 used for a limited time pre- and post-surgery.
The context of the word, in-val-id (in-ˈva-ləd), meant not useful 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 anymore; 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). Immediately I became unnerved. Little did I know I had just run into a heteronym – two words that are spelled the same, have different meanings, and sound different.
If one used those definitions interchangeably, well, that wouldn’t be right at all.
However, I instantly 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, would I be (even if temporarily) considered in-val-id (in-ˈva-ləd) or not suitable for the use I was intended for anymore? A throw-away? Something in need of replacement? The nerve!
Had invalid been on any other material I was reading other than a disability parking permit at the time, I most likely would not have made the heteronym connection. It would not have grabbed my attention at all. The parking permit triggered my heightened sensitivity after just being labeled disabled.
I think that’s precisely how many of us feel with labels, especially as we grow older. Labels can touch a nerve and make us more 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.
Wow! 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 placed on me. In fact, I think all the labels for people should be considered invalid!