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.