I just read an article about how the person of the year in India is the "Bhakt". A Bhakt, of course, is any supporter of Narendra Modi or his policies. It could be someone who casually believes PM Modi is right about one thing (say, demonetisation) or that he is right about everything (even 2002).
Now let me make it clear at the outset: I am not a political person and don't skew either right or left, I prefer to stay at the centre, and measure every political decision on merit. So the reason I write this is not because I'm in love with Modi but because I find us to be at a tricky time in our history where somehow everything needs to be labelled as either one extreme or the other. I find that to be a dangerous trend.
Either you think like my friends and me, or you're dumb, illiterate, clueless or a troll.
You can either be a Bhakt or a Libtard; you cannot be someone who is pro-demonetisation and yet has issues with other government policies. You are either an AAPtard or a Sanghi; you can't be a person who finds Arvind Kejriwal's work admirable but has an issue with his outbursts. You are either a patriot or anti-national; you can't be a person who loves his/her country dearly but finds it strange that it must be proved in a movie theatre.
Labels, of course, aren't exclusive to India. You can either shut up about equal rights or be called a feminazi, you are either Islamophobic or you are a true American, you are either White or you are an immigrant, you are either a Hillary supporter or a racist.
There is just no room left in the discourse for a "middle". Everyone so easily labels each other with such broad strokes today that if it weren't so casual, it would be horrifying. There is no empathy, no reasoning, no attempt to understand the other side. It's my way... or the wrong way. Either you think like my friends and me, or you're dumb, illiterate, clueless or a troll.
Why is it our knee jerk reaction to reduce complex human beings to labels? Why does one particular opinion become greater than the sum of the entire humanity of a person? Why are we dismissing the emotions of real human beings (and not just user IDs) who may well have the same value system but simply a different perspective?
The memes may be hilarious, the gifs may make us laugh out loud, but when we constantly put down people because we can't fathom their humanity from our high horses, they are bound to react in ways we may not see coming. The Alt Right is a child of this attitude; Trump won because we didn't even consider his supporters as real people (just "trolls"), and everything that's happening in Europe suggests that if we don't start mending our mindsets, the worst is yet to come.
When we constantly put down people because we can't fathom their humanity from our high horses, they are bound to react in ways we may not see coming.
I don't mean to sound preachy but the simple solution is empathy. Here's what I staunchly believe in: Maybe instead of labelling people, we can start understanding them. Instead of dismissing the opinions of the other side, we can start engaging with it. Instead of calling everyone with a contradictory view a "troll", we can start a dialogue. The truth is, people are always only just a few well-meaning conversations away from broadening their perspectives, but for that, we need to first stop judging them with labels.
Yes, it won't be easy; yes, not everyone wants to discuss or debate; and yes, some people will never change their hard-line stances... but we have seen what labels have accomplished so far. Perhaps it's time to try out empathy.