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—I’m not particularly fond of labels.

I suppose that’s just too damned bad because we’re swimming in a sea of them every day. In the corporate world, you have team players giving their best practices and core competencies a statistically impossible 110%. In the writing world, the talk is all focused on pantsers and planners and the hybrid folks that are all some variety or another of in-betweeners. We have Generations X, Y, and Z. Don’t forget the Baby Boomers. Bipartisan politics forces you to pick a label when you vote. And don’t forget all those Tools out there you absolutely hate. Though your list may be slightly different from mine, it’s an endless one.

And yes, I will pause here to admit I am somewhat of a hypocrite, being well aware that there can be no speech without words. Language is descriptive and, for convenience sake, we keep our words precise to explain what we mean regarding persons and concepts and objects. Still, I tend to bristle when a label is slapped down in front of me and my mind drums up the mischievous sentiment expressed in the poet Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. Simple yet elegant words I have known since I was a small child. I encourage you to read the whole poem it if you haven’t done so:

"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast." 

In his poem, Frost shares how nature, the hunters, etc. routinely tear down portions of this country wall between his property and his neighbors. He also shares how the two of them perpetually replace the stones in the spring-time together, from opposite sides. Meanwhile he views it as a game of sorts. He tells the neighbor that “he is all pine, and I am apple orchard” and “the apple tree will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.” And the neighbor replies, just like his father before had taught him to, with “good fences make good neighbors.”

If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but wonder, along with Frost: Why did the neighbor cling so desperately to tradition? Why couldn’t he see that the wall was a fruitless effort and a standing contradiction?

From the man’s perspective, I suppose it was easy enough to explain. Because his father said so, and his grandfather before that. And as long as they kept re-establishing all those silly walls and fences each spring Frost was allowed to wear the label of “good neighbor.”

…And Frost? I’d like to believe, much like me, he didn’t give a flaming ball of projectile monkey pooh about whatever label he’d been given. He just put up with all of the odd little rituals for that neighbor’s peace of mind more than anything.