I was at a networking event recently where we were all given stickers with our names on it. Over the years I’ve had these stickers pasted on me with my nationality, my company name, my occupation… and I got to thinking about little squares of information that we peer at or present when we meet people in these formal mixers or out in the world at large. How does the mind take these disclosures and what does it do with them? Can a mini sign actually affect who we are or how we feel?
“Hi Rose, my name is Daisy”
Juliet argued to Romeo that “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” and that his family name didn’t make a difference. Is that as true for the rest of us, off the stage?
I often say that weeds are merely plants that people feel are growing in the ‘wrong’ place or are challenging the ‘right’ plants for their natural place in the world. One person’s weed can be another person’s treasure/medicine/totem.
When we grow up in a family or community, the actions and reactions are ‘norm’. If athletics are highly valued, then a non-athletic individual may be the ‘thorn’ in the side of those who set the parameters in the first place. And because of it, for years that person might feel the bitter scent within his or her perfumed garden. Only later is it discovered that there is room for all blossoms. If an individual is the best bloom of the bunch growing up, there may be a surprise in time when it’s revealed that the world at large seeds a mixed bouquet.
“If you call me ‘Clumsy’, shall I answer?”
As a Canadian of a certain age, I learned to not turn around too quickly when someone yelled “Jennifer” because there were so many of us with the same name. On occasion, it was followed with more of my names so I recognized that it was me they were talking to. If someone called out “Samantha”, however, I wouldn’t even think about making a move – it’s not my name, so why would I respond to it?
Labels, on the other hand, don’t have the clear-cut rules of formal names. For example, if I spill my drink and someone calls me clumsy, I might recognize that I had just done a clumsy thing. If that name is repeated over and over, connecting me to it, I might begin to associate myself with the name or label of ‘clumsy’. The more that idea is reinforced, the more internalized it becomes and tends to shift from ‘something I did’ to ‘who I am’. Over time, we tend to live down to these labels and expectations.
“Hello Kettle, my name is Pot”
There are times when we are quick to notice others foibles, faults and negative attributes or behaviours. Whenever I catch myself doing this I often ask myself, “What is it about ME that might be resonating for me?”
Often times, the areas that I’m most annoyed about, have to do with one of several things for me.
- This is a trait I have that I don’t like. When I’m quick to point out faults I usually need to turn the mirror on myself. Others ‘weak points’ often echo to my weaknesses. There’s also a tendency to project on others traits that I notice in myself. What I may not be proud of within myself, I’m quick to land on others.
- This is a trait I used to have from which I am trying to distance myself. I used to be late ALL the time. People would wait around for me and always knew I would be the last to arrive. At one point in time, I remember reading about timeliness as being respectful not only to the people I was meeting but also for myself and the person I wanted to present. It was all very basic but rang true to me – I immediately started being more on time, and keeping people posted on my tardiness so I wouldn’t disrespect their valuable time as well. Fast forward many years, I know that people who are very late without any heads-up bother me – it is something that I internalized and worked on myself, so it’s still in my history as something I ‘got over’. I noticed it in myself and notice it more in others.
- This is a trait that I have been brought up to reject in some way. “This is how people SHOULD act/think/feel” is the basis for this reaction. It may not be something that we personally feel strongly about, but may be part of a ‘legacy’ – the way our tribe, family or culture feel about something. Especially when it is slightly incongruent with the here and now, we can find that dissonance a little bewildering.
“A little bit of Jessica… a little bit of Rita…”
A part of me knows that we are multi-dimensional beings that are different from each other to share our unique strengths, to teach lessons to others, and to discover our potential and power in our own ways. However, there’s a part of me that forgets. And they both deserve a place within the individual who is labeled “ME”. The part that gets up early, the part that sleeps in, the part that takes a risk, the part that hedges her bets… each part contributes to my life experience. Sometimes there’s a bit of a misunderstanding between parts in conflict, or in seeming conflict. When guided by a compassionate hand, it usually turns out that parts that work against each other simply believed in a ‘best’ path that might not have ended up that way over time. Just as we can offer objective thoughts to people we meet networking or in our daily lives, we can also learn to support our divergent parts and discover that our inconsistencies may be part of a bigger picture we aren’t aware of.
“Your nametag says Charles, can I call you Wonderful?”
With all the name-calling that happens in the media, on the street, in our own heads, is it wrong to throw out a compliment once in a while? Studies have shown that children praised for their innate wisdom rather than their effort tend to face challenges in growing (read, getting things wrong while they learn) due to the acclaim of existing smarts rather than effort. So that would give a guide to where to start with acknowledging others. Have they endeavored something worth noting? In a world of put downs, building someone up can feel a bit unfamiliar, yet wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring the standard of resilience, security and openness up, rather than tear it down? Does not sharing our compliments, while we impart our criticisms generously, with the people around us seem like a winner’s game? If we live up to our labels, wouldn’t we want to put them on those we care about? If we could talk to the strengths and mysteries rather than the name and occupation, how much more interesting would the conversation be?