Recompiling My Classification Index – Further Thoughts on Labels

A few posts back, I was talking about connectivity between everything – and how I am seeing a lot of this in places outside of Nature….  Well, it keeps happening. Was playing around on the Library of Congress website, looking at the classification system (more commonly referred to as the LCCN subject classification), and I started noticing that some books had multiple tags in the system. So I started digging deeper, and noticed that the tags were for books and subjects that crossed into multiple areas. For instance, books on Native American History were cross-classified in US History, as well as Native American Studies. So I took a bigger step back for a short while, and thought a bit more about how we classify topics and information in our lives.

We classify nearly everything we see, touch, feel, experience…a hot kettle is touched once in our lifetimes (at least I hope you only touched it once). We classify that as being hot, which equates to the painful sensation we received from the touch. We realize fairly quickly that anything hot has the potential to burn us. The longer we touch it, the more painful and long-lasting the resulting burn will be. So we classify that as “dangerous”. We don’t need to have someone put an arrow through any part of our body to realize that it will be painful and dangerous for something like to happen to us. So we classify any area in front of a bowman to be “dangerous” – different type of danger from the kettle, but it gets a similar consideration because of the potential for pain.

I have talked before about how much I hate labels. But the reality is that is a wrong statement on my part. Its not the label that I deplore. Labels – or classifications – are useful, particularly to the individual using this system of symbology. Well, before I continue, perhaps it would be useful to get me and you (the person reading this) in sync with what I mean by a “system of symbology”. The definition of symbology is fairly simple and straight-forward – its the use or study of symbols. In this case, I am referring to the classification or labels that someone uses to describe something as a symbol. Thus, since the classification provides a symbol of sorts, it also carries a definition along with it. When I describe something as “dangerous” – an individual using the previously mentioned concepts of a hot tea kettle and the bow/arrow, will envision some form of damage to someone as the direct result of whatever I am describing as dangerous. And this works well…but only for the individual that agrees with the descriptive classification that has been previously made for “dangerous”.

Perhaps, my definition of dangerous involves getting yelled at or verbally abused by someone. I equate that to an abusive relationship I had with my father, my mother, several girlfriends, two ex-wives, and several bosses. To cross the line where any of these folks would get mad would result in verbal abuse, which I equate with the label “dangerous”. The previous descriptive of dangerous – with the tea kettle and the bow/arrow – is the classification ascribed by Receiver(A). (A) has just done something that is going to upset her boyfriend. My comment about what she has done is: “that was dangerous”. Her immediate reaction is that her boyfriend is going to physically harm her in some way and she flees the scene in tears seeking a place of protection. An over-reaction? Perhaps, if considered from my point of view with my set of classification descriptives. From her perspective, (A) is only doing what she must to achieve protection from what she perceives as a real physical threat.

And here is where we start to have a problem with labels and classifications. Every single person classifies and labels things in their own personal inventory. But they do so by their own set of definitions, created by the derivatives caused from their own experiences. Each person is unique, and therefore will try to define things in their own way with their own experiences. The experiences are all similar, but the terminology we associate with it can be quite different.

The solution, particularly if you are discussing experiences with someone you do not know – and provided you actually have the time to do so – is to talk and establish what I call “common ground”. In this manner, you and the other individual – or individuals if you are talking amongst a group – can find common core definitions to experience and ideas, and you can then link back to these core definitions when trying to explain your own personal classifications. Even in agreed upon systems of classification such as the LCCN, there is a chance for misunderstandings. There is a strong chance that someone who reads “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” may see that book as a treatise on Native American Studies, while another person would classify it as a study on a part of United States History. Which classification is incorrect? Do we treat both as correct?  Do we place dual classifications on the book title for search purposes?

What about in your own personal classification system? Once you determine another person defines “dangerous” in a different way, do you add a secondary classification to your own personal system? Or do you add a secondary cross-reference that is only utilized when this individual enters into a conversation or topical discussion? I realize that this is breaking down the way people think into a very generalized way of thinking, but I do believe that every person uses this system of descriptives to quickly understand the world around them – and they do so subconsciously. And while some folk may think its not an important thing to sit down and look over every once in a while – as a single individual, I certainly do see the need to do so. Doing so, I may be able to unclutter my own internal index, and remove some classifications that no longer work for me. After all, our opinions do change over time….

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