Monday, January 9, 2012

Learning Names

Have you ever bumped into an old teacher or former work colleague at the grocery store.  The memory of them is burned in your brain.  You call out their name and say a warm hello, only to discover it's painfully obvious they recognize your face, but they just don't know your name.  It can often be a little frustrating or embarrassing, sometimes it can be downright crushing.

Someone's NAME is their favorite word in any language.  And, this month, I'm going to make an effort to know the name of every person who lives on our block, every child in both my girls' classes, and every parent of every child that is in both my girls' classes.   I want to be a part of my community, and you can't be a part of a group, when you don't even know everyone in it!

Today, I have a guest post from my dear friend, Grace Deisler.  She's sharing about why knowing names is so important.

In school a few years ago, I was in a class about community organizing and although I don’t remember most of the material we covered, there was one story that I haven’t been able to forget. When I started thinking about writing this, I searched and searched to find specific information and citations (an old English-major habit).  I couldn’t find anything and I have long since thrown away any notes I took in class.  Maybe there isn’t a well-researched, peer reviewed study and maybe it was just an anecdotal story told by a seasoned professor.  But the lesson it told is well-worth some space in my memory.
It told of a small town, somewhere in the Midwest.  The town noticed an increase in delinquency (drug use, teen pregnancy, and truancy leading to dropping out of school) so they organized a town meeting to decide what action to take to help the youth.  Ultimately, after much discussion, they decided that the best thing they could do was learn the names of the kids in town.    After a few months, most of the adults could identify most of the kids in town and as expected, rates of delinquency and pregnancy decreased. The trend only continued through the years as familiarity grew.
And why not? Who wouldn’t behave better knowing that someone familiar will recognize and identify the transgression?  In the privacy of my home, I’ll wear mismatched socks and a flannel nightgown; I’ll eat a grapefruit standing in the kitchen, juice running down my arm; and I won’t shut the bathroom door.   But you’ll never catch me doing so when I feel that someone might be observing me. 
Shame is a big factor in all of this, however, I think it also is deeper than that.  When we are known, and recognized, we begin to feel that our lives matter.  With a witness, a seemingly unremarkable life, takes on a new sense of meaning and feels a bit more extraordinary.  That’s why we come home and want to tell someone about our day.  We all want to be recognized and noticed and become familiar.  And familiarity can’t help but begin creating community.

Yes!  That's why this month I'll be working on become more familiar with my neighbors.  I'm sure I'll be posting about embarrassing moments and bumps along the way.  We'll see how it goes...But, knowing someone's NAME is so important.  It's just the first step of many of knowing and being known.

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