Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's In a Name? Everything.

Raising Compassionate Kids: One Name at a Time  

As parents, selecting a baby name is a big deal. It can take a long time. In the case of my sons it took, literally, months (the whole pregnancy and then some). With both boys, we had no idea what their names would be before they were born -- we didn't even know if our child would be a girl or a boy, and with both they were "Baby Boy Fischer" at the hospital for the first 2-3 days, or basically as long as was possible. 
Baby Boy Fischer (#2) when still un-named.
The nurse came to us and told us that it was officially time to solidify our child's name for their official record -- that's how long we held out on solidifying this important decision. We love the names we selected, and we're also glad we took our time. A child's name is important -- it signifies what the child means to their parents (and often to their extended family). It lays the groundwork for who they will become. It is a name we will say more often, in many cases, than any other name.

A name signifies that you mean something to someone. It's really, really important -- that's why everyone (of my generation) loves the Cheers song ("where everybody knows your name"). It's why we name our pets, and why kids name their stuffed animals or other toys. It's why those birth names often come with nicknames, a further testament to how important a person is in someone else's life. 

Thus, a lack of a name means something too. When we interact with the same person over and over at the store, but fail to take the time to learn/notice their name and address them accordingly, we're asserting that their name doesn't matter. They are not that important. When we see someone who is homeless and move away from them or avoid eye contact, it negates their existent. Often, those individuals are invisible to most people. Few bother to learn their names, even if they walk by that homeless person regularly. They become "the homeless person" -- their circumstance in life is who they are; they are not a person equal to others we know who have names.  

However, at some point, someone gave that person a name. 

In fact, they probably took great care in selecting that name. It meant something -- perhaps it was a family name handed down from generation to generation or inspired by someone they hoped their child would emulate, and that name means something now. 

In our tiny town, we have Papa John -- John may not be his birth name, but it is his name. The name he gave my husband when he asked. My sons know him by this name. They say hello to him when they see him and call him by his name. They think of him when we have extra soup or bread or fruit and get excited about sharing those goodies with their friend. In fact, my youngest son (my introvert) will shy away from some adults around town when they try to greet him (it can take him awhile to be comfortable with new people), but will shock those some adults by walking up to Papa John to say hello.

To many, he is "the homeless guy," but to us he is Papa John. He has a name. He matters. The boys even notice when he's not sitting under his tree when we drive by it and will worry if we don't see him often enough. To them, he's a part of their community, and I am glad that they are learning not to see him as "that guy," but to see him as a person, as Papa John.

My guiding word this year is compassion (thanks, Mama Scout for introducing me to guiding words). I take that word into my parenting as well. It is so important for me to raise compassionate kids, and I've realized that one important way to do that is to call people by their names. Our barista, our cashiers at the grocery store, the guy at the deli counter, the woman who stocks our favorite yogurt, the cashiers at our mini-mart, to us they are Becca and Matthew, Charles and Eva, Andrew, Shannon, Becky and Terry. They have names. They matter...and so does Papa John.

The next time you encounter someone who is homeless, even if you don't have something to give (a dollar, a dime, a homeless care kit), try giving a few moments of your time.

Ask their name. 

Ask how they're doing. 

Recognize their personhood. 

Do this even if you're with your kids - especially if you're with your kids. You're modeling important behavior to them. You're teaching them that every person deserves to be treated kindly, even people who are different. That's exactly what we hope to teach kids when we want to prevent or stop bullying, so let's make sure we're setting the example. 

Today, Thursday April 7th at 6:30 p.m. PST/9:30 p.m. EST, I'm excited to be joining Sheila of Pennies of Time and Jon from the I Have a Name Project for a Twitter chat about helping the homeless. I hope you'll join in too. Hashtag: #servechat 

Together, we can rethink homelessness...(as this awesome video from Impact Homelessness inspires us to do). 

You might also like:

A #Kindness Family Challenge
Fun Family Service Ideas/RAKs
Simple Sibling Play Ideas

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