Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's In A Name?

     A few weeks ago I was at a doctor's office, and after the exam he proceeded to dictate the treatment notes into a laptop that was sitting on a desk in the room.  As I listened to him describe "the patient's" condition, and the recommendations he made to "the patient", it seemed to me that this was a bit dehumanizing, as it tended to objectify me as "the patient" instead of describing me as a real person named David.  I've been thinking a lot about this topic since that day, and my ruminations have led me to resolve to be different.
     As I went out to do some errands today, I made a commitment to myself that I would use people's specific names at every opportunity that I could.  I had a bunch of chances to practice this just in one trip to Wegman's.  Pretty much everyone there (and this seems to be true in most retail establishments these days) wears a nametag that displays their first name.  When I went to the deli counter to buy some lunch meat, I said thank you to Megan.  When I was helped at the butcher's counter, I made sure to thank Mike for his assistance.  And when I went through the checkout line, I wished Mia a good day. 
     While this may seem like a small detail, I think it has an effect on both me and the person whose name I'm using.  For the other person, it's a form of acknowledgement that I see them as a unique individual, and not simply a checkout person or deli counter person.  I've often heard that people's favorite word in any language is their own name and that we even have a biological response to the sound of our name.  Using their name helps them feel more valued, and less objectified.
     Just as important, though, is the effect it has on me.  I think when I call the person by name, it reminds me in a very fundamental way that they're a person with their own unique story.  They have a family, they have likes and dislikes, they have hopes and dreams and fears and all the things that are part of being human.  A deli counter person is just a worker paid to process my order; but Megan is a real person with whom I can connect and for whom I can show kindness.   
     I know that I can sometimes be guilty of being too focused on the transaction, even when doing an act of kindness, and not enough on the human connection. As I go through this year and do my various acts of kindness, I want to learn to be better about making those connections.  Using people's names whenever possible is a good start.

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