Naming Your Labels

Living from a Place of Inner Peace

Ellie: Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Sto­ry is the tale of a blue cray­on with a red label. The cray­on was not very good at being red. He couldn’t draw straw­ber­ries or work with yel­low to draw an orange. Every­one tried to help. Even scis­sors and sharp­en­ers made snips and tucks to see if chang­ing him would help. He kept try­ing hard­er and hard­er, but noth­ing seemed to work. He felt like a fail­ure. Then, a new friend asked him to draw a blue ocean. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m red.” She invit­ed him to try, and he did. Not only was his ocean per­fect, it felt easy! “I’m blue!” he pro­claimed as he enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly drew the sky. There was noth­ing wrong with him. The prob­lem resided in the label assigned to him.

The first time I read this book aloud to my lit­tle kids, I cried. Hard. My heart went straight to two of my high school stu­dents who came out as trans and nav­i­gat­ed gen­der tran­si­tions. Then I thought of stu­dents explor­ing their sex­u­al iden­ti­ty or stu­dents who came from mixed race fam­i­lies strug­gling to find a sense of home in their racial iden­ti­ty. These young peo­ple were grap­pling with labels that had been giv­en to them that didn’t quite fit. Like the blue cray­on, they felt like they were doing some­thing wrong. Once they broke free of the lim­it­ing label and found one that fit bet­ter, they found vital­i­ty and pow­er in who they were and who they were becom­ing. It felt like an unlock­ing. It felt like release. And com­ing home. Find­ing a more suit­able label brought free­dom and and increased sense of inner peace.

Labels bring ease. Our brains like to cat­e­go­rize things, and they can be exceed­ing­ly help­ful. When it comes to our iden­ti­ty, how­ev­er, I encour­age stu­dents to only use labels that set you free. Sim­i­lar­ly, instead of apply­ing unwant­ed labels to oth­ers, we can instead get curi­ous and lis­ten to the labels oth­ers choose for them­selves. Some­thing as sim­ple as ask­ing peo­ple what their pre­ferred pro­nouns are or allow­ing peo­ple to diag­nose them­selves on the Ennea­gram per­son­al­i­ty test are small acts of peace.

Going Deeper: Ellie and Caren

Dar Williams
Dar Williams, singer

Lis­ten to the song “When I Was a Boy” by Dar Williams and think about how gen­der roles and stereo­types lim­it both boys and girls. So many of our bina­ry labels cut us in half when our human­i­ty is messier and more beau­ti­ful than that. As young peo­ple unfold in all sorts of ways, how can we hold space for them to decide who they are becom­ing and encour­age wholeness?

Lis­ten to Scene on Radio Pod­cast: S3 E10: The Jug­ger­naut: Writer Ben James and his wife Oona are rais­ing their sons in a pro­gres­sive and “queer-friend­ly” New Eng­land town. They active­ly encour­age the boys to be them­selves, nev­er mind those tra­di­tion­al gen­der norms around “mas­culin­i­ty” and “fem­i­nin­i­ty.” All was well. Until the elder son, Huck, went to sixth grade. This episode also fea­tures psy­chol­o­gist Ter­ry Real, who does amaz­ing work around mas­culin­i­ty and intimacy.

Writing Prompts for Adults and Kids: Ellie and Caren

  • Who do your par­ents say that you are? Your friends? Your teach­ers? Your sib­lings? Are they right? Who do you say that you are?
  • When was a time some­one told your sto­ry for you? How did that feel?
  • Pick one aspect of your iden­ti­ty: Write about a moment you real­ized you were a boy/a girl/white/a per­son of color/rich/poor/an Amer­i­can etc?
  • What are the unwrit­ten rules around gen­der you expe­ri­ence? What are qual­i­ties that we call male or female that are actu­al­ly human char­ac­ter­is­tics avail­able to everyone?
  • Which of your labels lim­it you as you strive for whole­ness? Which of your labels set you free?


For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren and Ellie part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace by talk­ing and lis­ten­ing with each oth­er. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and chil­dren, please share your com­ments here, or vis­it our websites.

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David LaRochelle
3 years ago

I could­n’t agree more about what a pow­er­ful sto­ry RED is.