Friday, April 30, 2010

SOUND OFF: Namecalling

What's in a name?  Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet?  I've been thinking a lot about names.  I read an article in the Statesman yesterday about how the British PM spent thirty minutes visiting a lady in her home after he called her a bigot.  Actually, his exact words were, "She's just sort of a bigoted woman." Gordon Brown had been on a radio program and had been answering some tough questions from the gal.  After the program was over and unaware that he was still being recorded, he griped about what a disaster the whole thing had been and made the remark.  Brown has since received quite a backlash for the comment, has tried to offer an explanation for it, and finally ended up meeting with the woman in her home to apologize in person and make amends.

You know what really galls me about this?  Is that it seems that no one can have a moment of frustration, that no one can have an opinion, and God forbid anyone from expressing the latter during the former.  There are some who argue that a man in Brown's position should never utter such things, but the last time I checked, prime ministers and presidents were still humans, and as such, are prone to making mistakes too.  To assume that the minute a person of power and position instantly morphs into a mindless robot who has no opinion of their own and never utters a harsh word is illogical, impractical, and just downright impertinent.

When was the last time you were driving in your car and somebody cut you off?  If you're living here in Austin, it probably happened today.  Like most people, you probably took offense and you might have called him a jerk, asshat, or whatever colorful name you have for terrible drivers.  Or how about when your spouse or friend rubs you the wrong way and you're left fuming?  "That jerk!  How could s/he!?"  Or perhaps you have a difference of opinion with someone, and while regaling it to a sympathetic ear later, you make the comment, "And can you believe they said _____?  They are so ignorant!"  If you've ever had a moment like that, newsflash people: You've just had a Brown moment.

Whether we like it or not, we are all name callers.  We've all done it, and we all continue to do it.  Even among the most gentle and charitable of my friends and colleagues, name calling exists.  But allow me to make a distinction here: there is a difference between calling names because you're frustrated and calling names because you are out to hurt someone intentionally.  It's one thing to call someone a jerk when they cut you off in traffic; it's a totally different thing to spit the N word in someone's face to pick a fight.  I don't think Brown was out to hurt that woman or start a fight.  He was frustrated by the circumstances he found himself in and called her a name.  Get over it!

Some of the most sage wisdom my mom's mother passed down was this: "You have three names in life.  You have the name you were born with, the name you make for yourself, and the name others give you.  It's the last one you should care about most because it's the one that will stick with you forever.  So will you be known as Honest, Trustworthy, Dependable?  Or Dishonest, Unfaithful, Lazy?"  Smart words.

We should all strive to be more patient and less accusatory, but at the end of the day, I think we all need to practice a bit more tolerance.  Let's work towards making a good name for ourselves and giving people the benefit of the doubt.  You never know, when you have a Brown moment, you might be thankful that you're on the receiving end of it!


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