Several years ago I was hanging out with a bunch of rock climbers. A typical subject for climber to talk about is, of course, other rock climbs that they have done. Now if you look in a guidebook you’ll see that each climb has a rating. Not to get too detailed into the rating systems, there are several of them, but suffice it to say that the lower numbers are easier to climb that the higher numbers.
Over time the inadequacies of the rating systems became apparent. Sometimes a route may only have a few feet that are at the higher rating and the rest of the route is not as difficult. In this case the they would add a (-) to the rating to show that the route only has one or two sections that are at the rating and the rest is easier. The flip side of this is when a route consistently has sections at the rating. In this case the route is give a (+) after the number.
Sometimes the climbing itself is given one rating but the nature of the rock does not allow you to protect the route safely. In these cases an R or even an X is added after the rating to express the relative danger of the route.
During this particular conversation we were speculating as to how the rating system used in the US could be improved. I am better at climbs that use cracks for handholds, yet I’m not nearly as good at climbing routes that use thin edges for holds even the route is the same rating as a crack climb that I can do. A crack climb rated at 9 was relatively easy for me compared to a edge climb that was rated 8. The group varied on which form they preferred, but we all agreed that the rating alone was not enough to describe the route. You needed something to tell how sustained the route was, something to describe the danger, and something to describe the type of climbing. Finally one of the group spoke up and said, “Guys, we already have something to do exactly that, the name of the route.” He was right. Every route is a little different than other routes. Even the best rating system could never encapsulate all the information you need to know about that route. Sometimes the ratings were helpful and other times they were not. In the long run it was the reputation and character of the route itself that a climber would use to evaluate it.
I’ve always been very critical of labels, especially when applied to people. I just think that all too often the labels are used as a substitute for getting to know and understand someone a little better. Any label that I could put on a person would be, at best, incomplete. Like the climbing rating system I’d have to add so much more to the label in order to really understand that person. Once a label gets applied to a person I fear that all too often we assume that they adopt all of the stereotypical characteristics of that label. I’ve been victim of exactly this several times. Based on some of my political views friends and family members have given me a label that is, at best, incomplete and all too frequently is a barrier to further understanding. Ironically different friends have given me different labels on different ends of the spectrum.
For several years now I have consciously avoided this type of labelling. As tempting as it may be, even in situations where it may be correct I avoid it. I’ve just seen far too many situations where it was counter -productive. As my climbing buddy pointed out, We already have a very good way to rate and describe, the name. Every person is a little different than every other person. Even the best label could never encapsulate all the information you need to know about that person.
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