Say My Name

Once again, Holmes had found his way onto a kitchen chair. And while it looked cute to have his fuzzy black canine head peeking above the table, some things Cannot Be Allowed™.

“Oliver! Down!”

Oliver? Where’d that come from? Oh, yeah, my sister-in-law’s dog. Try again.

“Blake! Get off!”

Blake? Big Blake hadn’t been in the house since last summer, when he passed away at 15.

“Oli … Bla … Hol … whoever you are, get over here!”

I’ve heard of this happening to parents, but it’s a first for Heather and me when it comes to pets. And other than the fact that all three are or were black dogs in occasional need of correction, they don’t have that much in common. They’ve never even been in the same house at the same time.

But reflex is strong. So when you need something quickly in the moment, you reach for whatever comes to hand first. Whether it fits or not.

But of course, the wrong name gets you nowhere.

Call a dog by the wrong name and they’ll be either oblivious or confused.

Get a name wrong in the newspaper and you’ll see upset phone calls or emails.

Using the wrong name in a conversation may draw laughter, frustration or outright offense.

Names matter. They’re tied into who we are and how we see ourselves. And they have a power beyond just commanding a dog to “sit!”

My wife’s middle name is Lyn. It ties into her mother’s name (Debra Lyn) and her grandmother’s (Marilyn). It’s a part of her heritage.

My own name was the product of a hasty family compromise: Dad wanted to name me “Walter,” Mom and Grandma hated it, and suggested naming me after him instead.

Some of my friends have been known by a nickname for most of their life. Others I know changed names as they grew up or changed circumstances: a BJ who became Brad, a Michael who became Kavya and so on.

It’s something fundamental.

But then, we’re good at getting fundamental things wrong. Especially when we act on reflex.

All of us have a story we tell ourselves about the world  and everything in it: beliefs, expectations, preconceptions. And inevitably, we bump up against something that doesn’t fit. What we do next says a lot about ourselves:

  1. We can look at the mismatch, see where we got it wrong, correct ourselves with a shake of the head, and go on a little wiser.
  2. We can decide we know better, keep insisting on our version of reality and wonder why the rest of the world is bring so stubborn.

Looking at the world today, we seem to have a lot of people in group B. And that’s a recipe for trouble. Sure, it feels good to tell yourself what you want to hear, but if you’re not calling something what it is, you’re not going to make progress.

And when a bunch of mutually exclusive versions of reality bump up against each other? You only have to look at the headlines to see the result of that.

Naturally, we may all draw different conclusions from the same facts. That’s human, and it can even be helpful. But when we can’t even agree on the facts … well, that’s where the problem arises.

So don’t always trust the reflex. Take a step back and think. It’s not always easy – sometimes even outirght uncomfortable – but it gets you farther in the long run.

Just ask Oli …I mean Bla …

Sorry, little buddy. Sooner or later, I’ll find the way Holmes.

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