Labels, identification, and judgments from an existential view


Quick summary: Sometimes the masses seem to all engage in a consistent behavior … and when such an occurrence happens it is easier perhaps to take the phenomenon for granted so as to not put all too much thought into what motivates such a seemingly universal behavior. Most humans pass judgment, assign rigid labels, and identify with certain beliefs or attributes etc… but why do we do this? Of course there is the basic reason which is fairly consistent amongst all animals – if you label your environment you can act accordingly to increase your likelihood of survival (learning cause and effect demands this ability)… but what about when assigning labels, passing judgment on others, or creating a rigid identity has no measurable outcome on basic survival or is arguably detrimental in some way?… what then is the purpose of this common behavior? From an existential perspective I would suggest that we do such in our endless effort to create meaning from meaningless and to provide evidence that we exist in the first place (perhaps the idea that we don’t truly exist is even more frightening than the inevitability of death). The point is that by better understanding this tendency we are able to move towards a greater acceptance of ambiguity which can set the stage for being more accepting of the transitory nature of all things… this could reduce the anxiety you hold pertaining to the subject of judgment, identification, and labels… and perhaps reduce your need to pass judgments and to hold labels which might not be in your best interest or in the best interests of others. Increasing your tolerance for ambiguity fosters an improved ability to change.

Who am I and who are you if there is not consistency?

If I cannot label you how can I understand what you are?

If I don’t judge you how do I contrast observations to comprise an image of who I am?

In other words if there is no label or judgment that I can identify with than I will have no way of proving my own existence… I know this sounds way out there so let me bring it down a notch.

Who are you?

The answer to this question holds the point of this conversation…

What words do you verbalize to yourself and to others when asked who you are?

“I am a psychotherapist, in a loving relationship, who loves to play music, who lives for tele-sking, charismatic, philosophically investigatory, grad student, mislabeled introvert, funny but often too deep guy, compassionate, wild, nature lover…”

this is where is gets tricky… if your labels stopped being ‘true’ would you still be you?

In my experience many people want to say that they would still be themselves without the labels, but in truth they hold uncertainty and a high level of existential anxiety about the idea of living without the ability to identify themselves in objective terms.

existential anxiety is an anxiety that surrounds our underlying understanding that there might not be any meaning in life, that we will all die, and that we have no certainty that we are not or will not at some point be completely alone.

How do we calm our existential anxiety?

The answer is simple…

– We make our own meaning.

– We create an identity to identify with.

– We create stories to explain death.

– And we place judgments on our relations to other objects.

“I think therefore I am.” – I would agree that you think therefore you think you know something… but personally my mind is not very adequate at conceptualizing existence… in other words my mind is mostly unable to comprehend the objective meaning of the phrase “I am”… perhaps this is do partly to the fact that my mind believes more in objectivity than reality seems to.

At this point I must point out that there is no definitive answer to any of the questions that I have provided… can you accept that?

I would suggest that your ability to come to a place of acceptance surrounding the ambiguous nature of some of the most fundamental questions to the human race is a useful journey.

As you embark on this journey you may find that change comes with less reactivity and defensiveness and with more curiosity and gratitude.

No need to quantify existence all the time… enjoy the idea that a lack of predictability and objectivity is scary and exciting at the same time.

“We are more likely to change in a way which is advantageous to the collective if we are willing to place less importance on both our tendency to pass judgement and on those judgments themselves.”


“I’m not right and I don’t know anything for certain and within this belief system (itself as transient as the next) I find an almost ironic comfort… something about the acceptance of ambiguity holds a secret about our fear of death… for me not knowing, and accepting such, is far more comforting than anything my rather limited mind can propose concerning the subjects of life and death.”

By this a proposed meaning of life is…– “the meaning of life is to live within the transient constructs of the relative moment’s interaction with the collective.”


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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