Back in the days when everything at the supermarket was individually priced, I used to love watching people as they labelled the produce with those plastic guns.  It looked so satisfying to pull the trigger. With a quick clunk and swish the item had its value stuck onto it for all to see.

But I sometimes feel like the world is full of people with labeling guns. Clunk, swish – ready to price me up.

Because, our culture values us. By that I don’t mean, ‘thumbs up, you’re great’. I mean that it assesses us and decides our worth.

So there you sit on the shelf, smiling self-consciously as the man with the labeling gun sizes you up, glancing at his check-list and quantifies your value.

Attractiveness? Clunk, swish.
Education level? Clunk, swish.
Charisma? Clunk, swish.
Strength? Job title? Earning power? Social influence? Political savvy? Humour? Days out of action for ill health? Popularity? Clunk, swish.

And with that, you find yourself camouflaged by stickers. Covered with little white labels telling you, and everyone else, how much you’re worth.

When you have Down’s Syndrome, and look at the labels stuck onto you, you see that you are someone with little value. Because what do you have to offer society? It’s unlikely that you will gain incredible exam results and a University degree. It’s unlikely that you will be one of the movers and shakers in the political world. You will probably have a low-paid, menial job – if you work at all. Your body may be a little weaker and your power to influence others and take the lead is largely removed. Clunk, swish. You don’t add up to much.

Dave and I have found that our values have been reassessed and our labels have been replaced since having Mikey. Dave has had to move to a less demanding job in order to have time for Mikey. Clunk, swish. I am not using my degree, I make no money and my options for future work are limited by the needs of my son. Clunk, swish. We don’t add up to much.

So what do we conclude? Do we say (like the writers of the recent medical journal article) that because our value is small and our contribution is so little we should move aside and make way for someone who makes more financial sense?

When we live in a culture that values us in this way we despise the sick, the poor, the disabled, the weak, the dependent because they just take and never give. And we can get away with it.

Because these ones are worth less – they are worthless.

I am seeing this all the time at the moment and it scares me.

I’ve been reading Luke’s gospel recently and I’m just amazed by Jesus’ refreshing approach. Over and again people come to Jesus and show him their labels.

There’s the ones who wear their labels with great pride. “Look at me Jesus, I’m brilliant because I’ve got money”, or “because I’m so wonderfully religious”, or “because I’m powerful and important”. When Jesus meets this lot he painfully strips off their labels and says, “what are you now?”. And because all their value was in those labels posted by others and prized by themselves they are quiet and angry and deeply disturbed. Jesus leaves them scrabbling on the ground trying to find those price tags, desperate to find their meaning and see if it will stick back on.

But then others come to Jesus and show him their labels. Ashamed. “I’m not worth much, Jesus”, they say. “My body is a mess”, or “my life is ruined by my bad choices” or, “I am hated and lonely because I’ve treated others badly”. “I need you so much Jesus, but you’re better off staying away from me”.

To these worth-less ones Jesus gently removes the labels and cleans off the stickiness that’s been left behind. The labels are gone and Jesus smilingly says, “what are you now”? And with the labels gone their true value is revealed. They are prized by Jesus as they are transformed by him.

Having Mikey in our lives and in our family forces us to reassess and question the value that the world places on us. He has shown us that if we only value someone based on their contribution, we have missed the point entirely.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to plead the case for someone with Down’s Syndrome by saying, “oh, but he’s in mainstream school” or, “he’s going to get GCSEs” or, “he’ll get a job” but clunk, swish those are just labels that we stick on to try to make him matter more. I’m not saying this to do Mikey down or to suggest we’re not devoted to helping him fulfill his potential. But, even if Mikey remains in special school, never sits an exam, never earns a penny in his life he is tremendously and wonderfully valuable.

The labels cover him up and with every price tag placed on him a little of his intrinsic, God-given value is hidden from view.

We need to begin to peel off the labels that have encased our bodies and veiled our souls and see, unmasked, that we have value solely because we exist. Mikey has value, just like Dan and Jemima, just like me and Dave. Just like you. Because we are here. Created for this moment.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. That is enough.

This is a post in celebration of World Down’s Syndrome Day. If you would like to read what I wrote this time last year it is here. As always, please feel free to comment and to share.

  1. Fiona on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Love this, Alice. It’s just beautiful and so brilliantly expressed. What a great way to explain the value of children with Down’s. You just can’t argue with that! I intend to share this far and wide. Happy Down’s Syndrome Day to you all. Much love xxx

  2. AliBee on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Such a beautifully written post Alice. Whenever I spend time with Mikey I am reminded how amazing he is. His laugh lights up the room, his love for his family is immense and he brings joy to those who he is with and these things are worth more than so many other things we seem to think of as valuable. xxx

  3. Helen on Wednesday 21, 2012

    This reminds me of a book which Anne gave to Erin a few years ago: “You are special” by Max Lucado. It allegorically points out that when we look at ourselves through God’s eyes, rather than the world’s, we not only feel happier and more confident but we have a completely different perspective on life.

    I have twice been challenged recently about the way in which society makes sweeping judgements on everyone when we have very little idea what someone is actually like, unless we know them very well. It’s so easy to slip into the world’s value systems and go around sticking on our labels, when of course as God’s people we should be striving to look at others the way he does, remembering they are made in his image. Thank you for reminding me again xx

  4. rachel on Wednesday 21, 2012

    This is, as you all are, wonderful x

  5. Jessica on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Lovely post — thanks so much for this. I, too, remember those price sticker things…what an apt comparison to how we determine worth.

  6. Ellie on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Thank you. A refreshing and vital reminder. As a secondary teacher I am usually hemmed into seeing pupils’ value in terms of GCSE grades. What a tragedy if our society misses the point you so clearly explain.

  7. Anne Booth on Wednesday 21, 2012

    I don’t normally cry at posts, but this is so true and beautiful. Thank you.

  8. Ben Carswell on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Thank you Alice for a brilliant article. Having read it, I broke down in tears at the many happy memories of my Aunt Barbara who had Down’s Syndrome who died 4 years ago. She brought so much happiness into our lives, and yet was one whom would be ‘labelled’ with so much. Your illustration of labeling and application of it in terms of Jesus’ life & teaching is so challenging and helpful.

    Thank you again for writing some a helpful piece!

  9. Christine Grew on Wednesday 21, 2012

    You write so beautifully, so movingly, so powerfully. xx

  10. Amy on Wednesday 21, 2012

    You said it BEAUTIFULLY! That is all so true.

    Mikey is AMAZING, as are all of you!


  11. nin on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Rachel Harris passed on this link to me.
    My wonderful”baby brother and his beautiful wife at the ages of 22 and 25 ,were overjoyed to be starting their family,when Alexander was born,he was wisked away,Jo being a nurse knew there was a problem,in a few days there world was turned upside down,Alexander had Downs,and that month six more younger couples also were confronted with the same news,I would like to say Pete handled it well,it took him a few days to get his head around it,Jo was the calm serene mum,it didnt matter,her world had changed,but she would and has always coped if thats the right word,It took Pete a while but the sun and moon shone out of his son,he wwent from lad about town,to 100per cent dad,I am so proud of him,they have pushed and haggled and nagged for Alexander to have the “RIGHTS”! any other child has without question,he has always attended mainstream school,with the help of his classroom assistant,it has had its lighter moments,hsi impression of Bart simpson[his hero] in the playground in an eat my shorts man,did bring my brother into school for a wee chat with the headmaster,but so did Alexander not being “allowed”to do music ,he loves music,okay he will never make the Albert hall,but neither will most of the other children,
    They fought to get him into high school,they won he is the first downs teenager to gain a gcse,something my brother all 6ft 5 cried and clapped at when he got his certificate,he has had driiving lessons,he loved it and has been told he can go back again,he has been invited into the cockpit of the plane that flew them to disney world,and flew the plane[it was on auto pilot]for the rest of the passengers sake,now he is working in a family run nursery,he adores plants,and it going to college to get his horticultirul citty and guilds,and is well on track to doing so,he can also fix any computer you care to mention,my brother runs his own IT firm,and Alexander often helped out the IT member of staff in middle school when he was stuck,he called him for any help he could offer,what labels should we stick to Alexander?funny,loving,clever,intelligent,maybe but just being Alexander is good enough for him,my brother and Jo have a daughter slightly younger than Alexander,she is to quote another label “normal” Abbie loves to swim has represented the Island and won many medals,but wont tell you,unless you ask,but will tell you what Alexander has done,she has never lived in his shadow,my brother and Jo have made sure she has her own life and time out with them,but neither will she not be seen with Alexander,they walk side by side thru life,brother and sister,the best labels in the world,and as a p.s of course my brother and Jo were worried about Alexander being bullied from infant school up,they need not have worried it went the other way,his circle of friends made sure he was kept on par with them all thru his school years,yes he is different,but arent we all?the world would be a very dull place if we were all clones,your son is a blessing as are all our children,and I feel lucky now to say I have the blessing of grandchildren,but even more my mother had two great grandchildren,and she has worked out she could still be around to be a great great grandmum,more labels?no that would be a party big time,

  12. Lyndsey on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Hi Alice- I was very pleased to read your article and see how much you clearly love Mikey. I think your experience as his mum highlights the (similar but obviously lesser) experience of every parent when we see the limitations in ability and character of our own children. It is a great thing about our society that we do care for the weak and vulnerable. It’s a statement of the worth of ANY society how they manage to pull this one off, and the extent of the filter put on God’s values as they are applied (or not applied) in social policy. The best thing about parenting in this respect is, of course, that we all have what James Dobson calls an “irrational” commitment to our own children. Aren’t families amazing?!

  13. […] Peeling off the Labels – Play on the Word (Alice Buckley). This is one of my favourite posts this year – written so well, and about how we demean and diminish one another with our labels. […]

  14. Jacqui Tyson on Wednesday 21, 2012

    Like a previous responder this reminded me of ‘you are beautiful’ by Max Lucado. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. I love how you used the analogy of peeling off the labels and seeing the real person. I am in the middle of writing a post about my son and this has encouraged me greatly (I’m a new blogger so need all the encouragement I can get especially when discussing something so very close to home) Thanks for this.