I was going through some of my old things when I was at home during the holidays when I came across a collection of name tags. One tag on it was Andisani (Degree type), a tag which basically differentiated me from other degree types in said meeting or gathering. Another one, Andisani (Name of University), Andisani (Company 1), and so on. While the feeling was quite nostalgic, and it was great to have kept all those records alive for myself I just wondered what those name tags truly represented. Name tags are given to us so we can represent an institution, an entity or so we can be easily be identifiable or grouped in a certain setting based on characteristics of the holder. Sometimes they can just bear the name of the holder, other times they also specify the designation of the holder or an institution represented, location or country etc.
The name tags I found in my collection made me realise that my entire journey from when I started engaging in extra-curricular activities came with tags. The tags would further segment me into another grouping when I proceeded from say a provincial to a national competition etc. And what that did was define a part of me even if it was for a moment. Other tags defined a part of me for an even longer time as a student belonging to a faculty, a graduate and as a working professional. Do we become boxed within those tags and become unable to think and want to experiment life outside of them? Can I walk in a room and introduce myself as nothing other than what my name tag suggests and truly share the hidden person behind the title without the listener wondering why I am not giving them what they are expecting? Or the conversation may deviate back to, so.. by the way can you tell me more about your line of business?
The problem is, as much as these name tags are meant to identify individuals they can also become our identity. When you go attend a conference as soon as you enter the room and introduce yourself to the next person, firstly whether or not you get approached is determined by what your tag says. Secondly the conversation is already limited to your title . Walking into a women’s conference the first thing I say is how I have often been labelled as, limiting the deep conversations we would have had if it was just a blank page and I was forced to engage at random. The tags can make us judge or only associate with people we believe are “relevant” and the rest are not as important to engage with missing out on engaging with people who are different from us and who might just be the fresh perspective we are looking for.
The labelling as a form of easily identifying us will never stop, which is fair. I mean we have an Identity document and drivers license which we often have to produce when making several applications, collecting parcels etc. When stopped by the police that drivers license which is your unique ID is your life line or death threat depending on your driving behaviour/ history. While we have to continue to have tags we can free our minds to think and explore beyond the words written on our name tags!