Taboos, Tattoos and Other Labels That Stick

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Something that is taboo is deemed by society as totally off limits.

Taboo topics are treated as improper, and range from politically incorrect all the way to completely unacceptable.

Some things that are taboo need to be talked about.

Some things that are taboo need to be talked about.

Things that are taboo are considered:

  • banned
  • beyond the pale
  • forbidden
  • frowned upon
  • off limits
  • unthinkable

You seldom get a second chance to make a great first impression, or a last one, for that matter. So keeping within social norms is important. As an example, in mainstream media, words that are considered unfit for broadcast, words that are taboo are ‘bleeped.’ But if you’re there in person, absorbing the context of the conversation doesn’t filter them out.

The idea of separation gives taboo a completely different meaning in other cultures. For example, in various places in the South Pacific, something that is taboo is set apart as sacred, and is therefore forbidden from ordinary, everyday use. Much the same as when you set aside special dishes and only use it on special occasions.

The Written Taboo

According to a New York Post report, The Department of Education has made the following words taboo for standard tests:

  • abuse (emotional, physical, psychological or sexual)
  • birthdays
  • crime
  • dinosaurs
  • divorce
  • Halloween
  • poverty
  • rap music
  • religion and religious holidays
  • slavery
  • terrorism
  • wealth

… and a host of other common words and subjects.

Their rationale for banning these words is because of their potential for bias and controversy. They also don’t want to confuse, embarrass or upset students.

The Unwritten Taboo

There are some definite taboos, and then there are some that fall into the “unwritten, but you should know” category. The general rule of thumb is that you are never supposed to talk about politics or religion.

When you look at the definition of politic, it means wise and tactful, sharp and discreet; a very useful set of characteristics necessary to every relationship.

What is really meant about not talking about politics and religion is never get into issues discussing your system of beliefs, power over people, or the abuses of power. If you do venture into political discourse, you’re expected to be “politically correct.”

Yet, political solutions are sought where freedoms have been denied. One such example are journalists who report on corruption and human rights violations in certain countries and are subsequently censored and/or arrested.

Taboo Topics

Taboo topics are governed by ‘invisible rules’ and they’re things that no one cares to hear about. Taboo means they’re also things that no one is supposed to talk about.

Yet those who are less tactful talk about things that go beyond the pale. They do not concern themselves with being sensitive to offending others. Some things they talk about are an abomination — things that incite hatred, things that go beyond the boundaries of normal, everyday, decent conversation.

There’s a time and a place for everything, but here are some things better left unsaid:

  • Anything ending with -ism. Isms create schisms.
  • Anything in poor taste; crude jokes.
  • Death and taxes never make for great table conversation.
  • Gossip.
  • Obscenities.
  • Racial epithets, or prejudicial biases.
  • Your salary.
  • Your sex life. Intimate details are always better left private.

Social Stigmas Seen As Taboo

Some people perceive certain subjects to be taboo, and are therefore reluctant to talk about them. But perception doesn’t necessarily make it taboo. One such issue is mental health.

English musician Adam Ant believes that creative people are prone to depression. He says,

Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with.

In another situation, a lady by the name of Frances Reimers recently appeared on global television talking about loneliness and how many people think being lonely is taboo. Even though she is attractive, outgoing and gregarious, she still feels lonely.

Why should anyone suffer any social sanction for having such a feeling?

If you struggle with loneliness, please read 10 Ways To Overcome Loneliness and Have A Happy Life.

Some consider it taboo to talk about suicide, but I think this is one of those issues that definitely needs to be talked about. While not a very pleasant topic, it is important that you know what the warning signs are. It requires going beyond taboo labels and any social stigmas to find out what signs to watch out for.

If you missed it, you may see want to read Suicide Prevention is Everybody’s Business on Lisa Buben’s website.

Tattoos and Invisible Labels as Taboo

In certain cultures and belief systems, tattoos are defilement to the body. They permanently (unless removed) place images beneath the skin that are visible identifiers of a personal statement.

Yet, in other cultures, such as when I was in the military, I was expected to get a tattoo.
Mine is on my left arm. Even though the colors have faded from nearly 40 years ago, it reminds me every day.

In some settings, tattoos are taboo.

In some settings, tattoos are taboo.

Just like a tattoo, invisible labels brand people with such names as…

  • “ignoramus”
  • “loser”
  • “weakling”

Do you know, for example, what you are if someone labels you a smellfungus? A habitual fault finder or complainer. How about a milquetoast? They’re labelling you as a timid, unassertive person. If someone brands you a pecksniffian, they see you as one who pretends to have high moral standards but is a hypocrite.

While such words may be strange or unfamiliar to you, perhaps the feeling of being invisibly branded by someone is not. Leo Buscaglia wisely said,

To love you must free yourself of labels.

That is, the tendency to label others.

Another thing considered taboo is vulnerability. I’m not talking about vulnerability that puts you at risk of being a crime victim. (But even then, everyone should be aware and identify what such risks are.)

The kind of vulnerability I’m talking about is that in which you risk being misunderstood or risk your authenticity being misjudged by others.

Some people think that if you display vulnerability, that you are weak or that you lack character. They brand you, like an invisible tattoo, with a label on your forehead that says you are “crybaby” or “sissy” or “too emotional.”

What some see as a label, I think is a badge of courage. If you’ve seen Brené Brown on a Ted Talk, or you have read any of her material, you know that being vulnerable is not taboo at all.

I say,

You’ll never be able to control what others think, so don’t worry about it. Just be yourself.

I also encourage you to read my previous post, The Power of Being Vulnerable.

Over To You For Your Say…

Are things now taboo that you were once free to talk about and you feel you should still be able to?

What do you think is responsible for the change?

Does this interfere with your right to free speech?

I love to learn. Please add your valued thoughts here.

Thanks very kindly!

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About Bill Butler
William A. Butler is a John C.Maxwell certified coach. He loves to add value to others and aspiring to be a great humanitarian, lives by four words: BE LOVE TO OTHERS. William often goes by "Bill" and is a poet, a songwriter and has an upcoming novel.

14 thoughts on “Taboos, Tattoos and Other Labels That Stick

  1. Hi, Bill!

    Interesting topic!
    Every culture or social group has it’s taboos. Sad, but most taboos don’t make anything good, in my mind most of them makes more damage. Every person has it’s tolerance and understanding level, that he guides his life based on. That’s where all kinds of taboos appears. I personally like to brake taboos in my life and live the life as free as I can imagine. Sometimes it’s difficult, but it’s possible!

    • Hi Aistis,
      I agree about certain taboos being harmful, especially when they strip people of human rights and their dignity, and erode their spirit, little by little, until they feel completely defeated. I’m glad that you are able to navigate the social seas to freedom where you are. 🙂

      All the best for a great week ahead!

  2. Hi Bill,

    Very insightful article. Thank you for sharing!
    We, I am not sure if there are things that used to be free for me (personally) to talk and now I can classify them as taboo. At least I can’t recall them at this very moment. But the concept, I agree and some of the common social sanctions you discussed, are true.

    It’s amazing how somebody can say “Being lonely is a taboo”. Well, good to know some people can think it that way 🙂

    Wow! You really have done a lot of research on these topics. Excellent write up to keep us hooked into the post from beginning till the end!

    Kumar Gauraw recently posted…All You Need To Know About Managed WordPress HostingMy Profile

    • Hi Kumar,
      You’re very welcome. I’m glad you find the post informative and interesting. One thing I could have written more about is peer pressure among the youth of today. They have their own micro-climate of social expectations and taboos they place on each other. I find it interesting that so many of them today, while trying to be unique, resemble each other.

      I appreciate you weighing in on this. Thanks so much!
      Best Regards,

  3. I never really stop to think if something is taboo, I was raised a certain way and knew what I should or not say or do. I guess I have taught my children the same way. Ingrained in my head was the golden rule “Do unto to others as you would like done onto you” We were also taught never to discuss religion or politics. We all have opinions and there is no right or wrong opinion. It just is. I can see you did a lot of research which made this blog very interesting.
    Arleen recently posted…Using Technology to Promote Your Business and How it is Influenced by Our YouthMy Profile

    • Welcome Arleen,
      You’ve enlightened me to a consideration I had not thought of, and that is living simply within the parameters of your upbringing.
      If one adheres to principles, such as The Golden Rule you mentioned, they need not concern themselves about what is or isn’t taboo.

      Thank you kindly for contributing. Enjoy your week!

  4. Hi Bill,

    Don’t you think that it’s a bit laughable if you think that the “human society” has both “invented” those topics and made them taboo at the same time?

    I always like to look at things as if I was situated right about planet earth and looking down at the stupid things people do. It usually gives me a more detached and intelligent perspective. I just did that will I was reading your post.

    By the way, I need to say this; I simple can’t stand tattoos and one would have to pay me at least a million dollars for me to get one, so I’d have enough money left to have it removed 🙂

    Great topic subject.
    Sylviane Nuccio recently posted…New eBook 15 Easy Rules To Fire Up Your Writing!My Profile

    • Hi Sylviane,
      I had not considered that point, but you’re right… it is somewhat laughable. I like your perspective of looking from the outside in.
      One of my favorite books is one that Wayne Dyer wrote years ago called “Gifts From Eykis” … in which an alien comes to Earth, and a psychologist tries to explain why people treat each other the way they do.

      That’s okay Sylviane. I understand that not everyone likes tattoos. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  5. Hi Bill,

    I just love the way you write.
    Yes, there are many taboos lately that I feel I cannot talk about anymore. I won’t give my opinion on politics. Now that one really gets my goat, but I cannot even express myself anymore. lol (duck tape on my mouth)

    This is one thing that I could rant about but won’t.
    And yes, this is one factor that gets interfere with free speech.

    So, I know you understand where I’m coming from my friend.

    donna merrill recently posted…Blogging for MarketersMy Profile

    • Hi Donna,
      Thank you for the words of encouragement. It’s always nice to know when someone likes your writing style. 🙂
      I’m thinking a blog post on animals should be fun. You know, people getting your goat, you and your duck tape 🙂

      The Tremeloes had a great old song redone by a group called Essex… it was called ‘Silence is Golden’ so, yeah, I know what you’re saying. 😉
      Thanks Donna!

  6. Hey Bill!

    GREAT content! Love that you even incorporated tattoos into there, I’m a big fan of tattoos and trying to break stigma about what they mean! And like you said once you drop the labels, you can really learn to love – that’s what it’s about!

    Zach recently posted…Why Go Vegan | Why I Went VeganMy Profile

    • Hey Zach,
      So glad you like the post, and thanks for writing. 🙂 Tattoos have cultural significance everywhere in the world. I like how you’ve summarized about dropping the labels. If one were to ask oneself… “Am I being as fair as I can to others if I throw an invisible label on others?” and they look closely at the issue, they’ll see that they’re really being unfair to them self, because any time we are being judgmental of others is time wasted on not loving them for who they are.

      Kind Regards,

  7. I oftentimes wonder Bill who even comes up with this stuff. Most of that is laughable I mean Dinosaurs? Really?

    I was raised a certain way and that was to respect others. So there are things that are appropriate to say while there are things that you just shouldn’t bring up. As I grew into an adult I formed my own beliefs so there isn’t anything that I think is taboo but I refuse to discuss politics or religion. Those are just two subjects that the vast majority of people cannot agree with and feel so very strongly about that they usually end up in some type of argument. I just don’t feel it’s that important to even cross those lines myself.

    There are just different cultures and different views people have so who am I to say what’s right or what’s wrong for them. As for me I just try to respect their beliefs and move on with my life.

    Adrienne recently posted…Thankful Thursday: 403 Pages, Triberr, WP Plugins, Branding, InterviewMy Profile

    • Hi Adrienne,
      Incredible, isn’t it. Yes, even dinosaurs. Maybe they’ll be putting fossils on the list next? 😉
      I like and agree with how you were raised. RESPECT… I’d certainly heard the word, but I didn’t understand the meaning of respect until I was in the military.

      I think you are wise to keep religion and politics out of the way, and I’m with you on respecting where others are at.
      I appreciate learning more about you from your responses. 🙂

      Have a wonderful weekend!

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