The Pitfalls of Labels

Introduction and discussion of the problem of labeling self and others.

I want to introduce myself and also address one of my pet peeves, all in one post.

The mundane information first. In writing, I go by Robert G Heckler. In music, I go by Bob Heckler. You may ask why. I don’t know. Maybe, just to keep it straight.

If I grew up, it would be considered to have happened mostly in the 50’s and 60’s. I was raised mostly in Wichita, KS. My grandparents lived in Enid, OK, where I was born and therefore, I spent a lot of time in Enid. My grandfather was a southern attorney. He was a Democrat in a land of Republicans. He ran for office as County Attorney several times and never won.

My grandparents introduced us to politics when we were in the single digits. We watched the conventions and they explained to us, who was who and why they were favorable or not. Oddly, we cared.

I started playing the piano at the age of 4. I played by ear, which is probably common for someone that young. I tried playing the violin, but that didn’t work out, then started playing clarinet in the 5th grade and played until finishing one year of college and never again. I started playing guitar when I was 26 and have not stopped.

I became involved in advocating for civil rights and against the Viet Nam war before getting out of high school. I would have been drafted at 18 if I had not been in my senior year of high school. I was 17 when President Kennedy was shot and killed.

I had a number of common labor jobs until the age of 23, which is when I entered into the field of social service. I had several roles in social service before changing my major to Social Work. I graduated from Bethel College, a Mennonite College in January, 1979. I had previously majored in art and sociology. At the University of Kansas, I started in a graduate program in East Asian Religious studies, but then switched back to social work and earned a Master’s in 1984. I focused on clinical social work and earned licensure as a clinical social worker in 1986. I had already worked for the Menninger Foundation, Catholic Social Service and the Veterans Administration before achieving the highest level of licensure. I had also already worked with several different populations in previous social service roles.

Since getting my MSW and licensure, I have worked for Catholic Social Service, Prairie View Hospital and Community Mental Health Services, Lawrence Mental Health Services, and currently, I am in private practice.

As far as music, I am of no acclaim, but not for not trying. I have written around 60 songs and also re-composed well known hits, such as by the Beatles and several other artists. I play finger style guitar and have more recently begun singing. I have sang in the past in choirs and a quartet, but now I am writing lyrics and singing my own songs.

So, before this gets too long and boring, what I think I have learned is the value of avoiding labels, and focusing rather on clarification of perceived problems in as objective of terms as one can achieve and then the ability, in the here and now, to focus on solutions. This may sound corny and naive, but nevertheless, I think it is very important and beneficial to strive for this end.

I was baptized as a protestant, but I am not a protestant. I have attended a Mennonite College and been employed in two Mennonite organizations, but I am not a Mennonite. I have worked for the Methodists and the Catholics, but I am neither. I have been educated in East Asian Religions, but I am not a follower of any religious dogma. Professionally, I am trained as a social worker and therapist, but I am not described by these terms. I have acted in many roles, but I am not a role. I jokingly refer to myself as a “Bobist,” but, I am currently on the planet posing as a human being and trying to act and behave in ways that make sense in the here and now. This is the backbone of my so-called “self,” and out of this framework, I will post thoughts and ideas.

I eschew political labels as well. I think people take on these labels and use them to justify or condemn others. This is the beginning of the end of productive discussions in my mind. People say, “well, it helps me to know where you are coming from.” I doubt that. Mostly, it conjures up ideas and attitudes which interfere with the process of understanding problems and how to solve them.

If people are doing harm to themselves and others, that can be seen and described in objective terms. This is hard for human beings, so we have to work at it. I personally struggle with this as well, because when we have feelings, fears and passions, they can and will come out at times, but when that happens, we need to also balance that with objectivity, to the extent that we are able. We need to pursue facts and think deeper. This is what we can help each other do.

None of us have all of the answers. We have pieces of the puzzle and the more pieces we can get from each other, the more we can clarify, and then more problems can be addressed in effective ways. Solutions are best, in my opinion, when based on a comprehensive understanding of the problem and when they are discovered by the process of being very open minded, not constricted by preconceived ideas.

I shall submit this as my opening comments and I will share my thoughts as they come up out of my experience. I look forward to discussions and will do my best to reflect my stated values in my sharing with others. I use the handle, Heckler in the Real Grassroots (UNPAID) Crowd.

I make fun of my own name, in an effort to sometimes live up to it. I have seen a coopting of the term grassroots, by the tea party. Grassroots means people of less means who are striving to have a voice. It does not mean rich people who seek to obtain more and more power over others. I am not paid for my writings, so I am not obligated to anyone other than myself and my own values and standards.

Robert G Heckler


Yossarian Johnson
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