When’s the last time you had a real honest-to-goodness “aha!” moment? For me, it was quite recently. It was so simple that I wondered how I’d missed it up until now. And yet it was so profound that I actually felt the perspective shift happen and knew at once that it would change things moving forward.
I don’t know if you’ll find it as revelatory as I did or not. I suspect some of you will. For others, perhaps, it will serve as a timely reminder of something you’ve merely forgotten for too long.
If you’ve read my book, The Best Advice So Far, or if you’ve been reading along on this blog for any length of time, you know that I devote a good deal of focus to the importance of using people’s names often, whether it be with the cashier at the convenience store, with the other patrons working out around you at the gym – or even with sketchy neighbors. Most of my stories of cool personal interactions with strangers begin with our having exchanged names. I mentioned in one post that I make a point to ask homeless people their names (just as I would with anyone else), and recounted having met one woman who hadn’t heard her own name spoken in so long, she’d actually forgotten what it was.
Anyone who’s been out with me to a restaurant or movie theater – or really anywhere – knows that I’m not just spouting ideals here. I really do practice what I preach with regard to asking and using people’s names. (And for some reason I can’t quite figure out, many people find this odd, amusing – even almost mystical.)
In short, the importance of asking and using people’s names is not a new revelation or practice for me. Nor is it a surprise that cool things often come of such a simple practice.
No, the recent realization that I did have … was just how infrequently anyone calls me by my name.
Most people who speak with me live just sort of … start in. “Hey, how’s it going?” and the like. But virtually no one says, “Hey, Erik, how’s it going?”
This is true of phone conversations, as well, including both live connections and voice messages:
“Hey, what’s up? I was wondering if I could run something by you.”
“Hey, do you have a minute?”
“Hey, it’s me. It’s about 4:30. Call me back when you’re free.”
If only my first name were “Hey.”
Even in written correspondences like texts, most people don’t use my name.
Ironically, the most likely suspects to use my name in writing are auto-fill emailers:
“Exclusive offer just for you, Erik M. Tyler!”
For some reason, these uses of my name in print miss the mark in creating the feeling that I am in any way special (interpret “exclusive” as “we excluded anyone whose email addresses we couldn’t manage to get our hands on for this SPAM blast).
Even those closest to me either omit my name out of familiarity or replace it with pet names or nicknames:
I suppose I speak my own name fairly regularly by way of introduction; but I realized only recently that it actually sounds a bit strange to me when spoken by other people in direct address.
What’s more, while I use strangers’ names regularly, all of this got me wondering how often I myself use the names of friends and family when speaking with them. I think I use them; but then again, maybe I just think I think I use them. Do I?
:: my head hurts ::
I’m not bemoaning this fact. I’m just suddenly aware of it. And I have to say, it came as quite a shock.
Here I was reflecting on how tragic it must be for a homeless woman to have gone so long without having heard her name spoken aloud, when all the while, none of us may be hearing our name formed by the lips of others any more often than that homeless woman hears her own.
Still, none of this is the central point of this post.
The point is that, if my experience is any indication of the norm, hearing our own given name is quite rare.
And rare things can be valuable.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my nicknames and the people who’ve bestowed them upon me. I don’t think I’ll start calling my mother “Barbara” instead of “mom” anytime soon (nor do I suspect she would find that especially “precious” coming from me). I’m not even advocating for calling close friend and family by their given names rather than pet names any more often than we do.
What all of this did wind up doing is convincing me all the more of the true gift it is to speak the name of another person, knowing that I may be the only person to have spoken that name in a very long while – or to speak it again for a while yet to come.
What’s more, this gift can be given for free, any time we choose.
It costs nothing beyond the choice to maintain an awareness that those “other beings” moving about us each day are human beings.
Real people living real lives, as important as our own.
Chapter 9 of The Best Advice So Far sums it up this way:
Put the power and beauty of a name to good use.
I sincerely hope that you might experience the power and beauty of having your own name spoken with positive attention and intention by someone today.
And may you be inspired to give the rare, valuable, precious and treasured gift of a name to others around you, as well.