What’s in a Name?

Has this ever happened to you? You run into a friend that you haven’t seen for a long time. You’re happy to see him because you have fond memories of laughter and camaraderie. You’ve always enjoyed his company. You have no idea why you grew apart in the first place. But you can’t introduce him to your significant other because… his name is on the tip of your tongue… what is it again?


We place so much value on the naming of people, places and things. It’s as if we must be able to pin things down, validate them, make them a part of our world by calling them something. The right thing. The proper thing. It’s important to name things to prove you know what or who they are. Why?

Is the accurate description of a thing what causes it to be real? Like Schrödinger’s cat, can a thing’s state of existence only be locked in when it’s observed? Is calling you by name the only way to prove that you are truly alive?

When land is colonized, the place names often get changed. For example, Mount St. Helens used to be called Suek by the Native Americans who lived there. Names are powerful things. Renaming says, “Your sense of the reality of this mountain isn’t valid. We take ownership of this place and its history is now our history. Nothing else counts.” It’s the ultimate violation.

And yet, the mountain itself is still the mountain. But even calling it “the mountain” is a sort of naming, is it not? That tall mound of… oh, bother. Everything is a description. You could keep an image of it in your head, but you’d have no way of discussing it with others without some commonly agreed upon name.

If a name is what defines something, shouldn’t people choose their own names? I have never felt like a Barbara. No one could ever know me as well as I know myself. And yet, the name I would choose for myself now is probably not the name I would have chosen 20 years ago. I am constantly changing. But my name stays the same. I kind of feel as though I should be able to shed it like old skin. But there’s no cultural mechanism in place for that.

Words have value. They help us connect with each other, and with the wider world. But maybe we need to find a way to work on our interior sense of who or what constitutes the true essence of things, before we lose the ability to do so.


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On Having an Impact

On the day I wrote this, I was told by one friend that he learned about Kiva.org because of me, and that he and his daughter have been making microloans through them ever since. Another friend chimed in and said it was the same for her. This gave me a lump in my throat, because it means that I played a small part in improving the lives of people in other parts of the world without even realizing it. And some day those people whose lives have improved will go on to improve other people’s lives, and so on, and so on. In its own quiet way, it’s immortality. We are all so interconnected in ways we don’t even realize. It’s miraculous when you think about it. What a gift!

And then, less than an hour later, I was contacted by Mariah, one of my favorite readers, who told me that not only has she read my book, but she also printed out the blog post that I wrote about her several months back, and it hangs on her wall. Okay. Happy tears. Somewhere in South Carolina hangs one of my blog posts. Wow. Just… wow.

Learning that I’ve had an impact on people means so much to me. It’s more precious than gold. It tells me that my life is worth living, and that all the challenges and all the potholes in my path have been worthwhile. It’s validation. It’s uplifting.

If someone in your life has had a positive impact on you, dear reader, I strongly encourage you to tell them so. They may not realize it. And hearing it, I guarantee, will have a positive impact upon them.

See? It’s easier than you think.


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One of my rear tires was looking slightly flat. Again. It would never lose enough pressure to set off alarm bells in my mind, but it really was starting to annoy me.

The gas station’s mechanic must have seen me muttering to myself at the air pump, and he came over to investigate. He offered to remove the tire and inspect it for free, and sure enough, I had picked up a nail somewhere along the way. He repaired the tire for 16 dollars and off I went. That’s excellent customer service.

I must have been driving around with that nail for months. How amazing that something could have such a low grade negative impact on my life and yet I hadn’t noticed for so long. It made me wonder what other “nails” I carry around without even realizing it.

Almost immediately after having that thought, I stumbled across my journal from my senior year in high school. I sat down to read it for the first time since I had written it. It was a painful read.

I had forgotten how miserable I was as a teenager. My self-esteem was at rock bottom. I was so starved for love and validation that I went looking for those things in all the wrong places. For example, I described an excruciating date in which the boy in question had treated me horribly. I mean, really, there was no excuse for his disrespectful behavior. And then I wailed, “And he didn’t even kiss me good night!” Ah, teenage angst.

I practically had “welcome” tattooed across my forehead. I was a bleeding fish among sharks. I was so easy to victimize that I drew unscrupulous people into my orbit. The 52 year old me weeps for the 17 year old me. But the 17 year old me did not know any better. She had no frame of reference that would lead her to believe that she deserved more.

Those old journals are heartbreaking. But I’m going to continue to read them, because I cannot affect repairs on myself until I know exactly how many nails I’ve been driving through life with. I think I have some customer service I need to apply to myself, and it’s long overdue.


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Self-Deprecation — Your Brain Hears You

I have this theory. There’s a part of your brain that takes in what you hear and assumes it to be fact. My theory is that that goes double for what it hears coming out of your own mouth. Sure, what you say is generated by your brain, but the choice to actually say it is kind of a form of validation. In other words, if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

For some reason many of us think it’s charming to be self-deprecating. But I’m telling you, your brain hears you when you put yourself down. You might be laughing as you say, “I’m so stupid,” or “Women are just not into me,” but a little part of your head is just hearing the words and taking them in as reality. In the long run, that is going to hurt you.

We are often more cruel to ourselves than we would ever be to others. That’s not funny. That’s not charming. It’s just wrong. Self-abuse is still abuse. Why don’t you deserve as much courtesy and kindness as you would afford a loved one, a guest, or a stranger in distress? You can, should, and MUST become your own cheerleader!

That’s my theory for the day.


Have a Little Faith

There are certain things that I long to hear from people that I care about.

  • I have faith in you.
  • I’m proud of you.
  • I trust you.
  • You can do it.
  • I appreciate you.
  • I love you.

Yes, it’s always dangerous to rely on outside sources for your personal validation, but as far as I can tell, most people crave it. That’s why Facebook is so popular. There’s something addictive to having people “like” your opinions. We naturally prefer to be agreed with.

Sadly, many people seem to withhold the above statements even when they feel it. And if you have to ask, “Do you trust me?” you come away feeling slightly pathetic. So you don’t ask, and you don’t know.

Unfortunately you cannot control external validation. But if you want it, you can be sure that others do, too. And you can control that. Tell the people that you love that you are proud of them, trust them, have faith in them. Let them know. If you do, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll pay it forward to someone else. You could have an impact beyond your own intimate circle of friends and relatives.

Having said that, I appreciate you, dear reader. Namaste.


[Image credit: illuzone.net]