Your curiosity may open doors when you find yourself in a new environment, but learning names will keep those doors open. The more names you learn, the more power you have. If you want to successfully navigate life’s transitions, learn the names of people, places, and acronyms. It will do more than you think.
“A rose,” Shakespeare wrote, “by any other name is still a rose and doth still smell as sweet.” Or does it? Many cultures, including my own, have ancient traditions which ascribe great power to a name. When you know the name of someone or something, you enter into a new, more intimate and powerful relationship. It is an important and awesome privilege to know someone’s name.
That’s why we’re advised to never put the names of young children on their clothing. If a stranger walks up and calls them by name, there’s a much greater chance that the children can be manipulated and abused.
That’s also why God was unwilling to reveal the divine name to Moses in the Sinai desert. While herding sheep and goats across the desert, Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed by the flame. Curious, he went over for a closer look. That’s when God called Moses by name and commissioned him to liberate his people from slavery.
Wanting ammunition for the campaign, Moses asked to learn God’s name. But the divine name would not be revealed. This was no kept God with a household name. This was the Universal Spirit who defies every attempt at definition and control. To reveal the divine name would change the terms of the relationship. And when it comes to the Universal Spirit, the terms cannot be changed.
Has the Universal Spirit ever called you by name? It may happen only once, but once is enough for a lifetime. The Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, describes this experience powerfully in his classic poem The Song of the Wandering Aengus.
I went out to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head
And cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread
And when the white moths were on the wing
And moth-like stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow a fire aflame
But something rustled on the floor
And some one called me by my name
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun
There are, of course, many interpretations of this poem in which Yeats • the Wandering Aengus • was so powerfully transformed when “some one called him by his name.” I like to fancy the glimmering girl as the Universal Spirit, who Yeats will no doubt find “when time and times are done” in “the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.”
This reflection on the power of names is designed to reframe this provision for successfully navigating life’s transitions, since it might otherwise be overlooked as too simple or rudimentary. When you find yourself in changed circumstances or a new environment, learn names. Doing so will shift your energy and relationships in powerful and intimate ways.
This past week I had the opportunity to learn many names. In addition to the obvious business and neighborhood connections, I went out of my way to meet the people who deliver my newspapers, collect my garbage, pick up my recycling, cleanout my septic tanks, and deliver my mail as well as my packages. These service workers are important to my functioning.
By learning their names I made them feel good and, at the same time, I increased the likelihood that they would do their job well. Perhaps that’s why one executive I know always asks prospective new associates to name the service workers in their last office. If they don’t know any names, he doesn’t hire them.
Learning place names can be just as important as learning people’s names. When I first arrived in my new environment, I would ask for directions, receive them, and still be lost. “Do you know where Penniman crosses 60? That’s Page Street.” The names meant nothing to me. All that changed as I took out the map and began to learn the names of streets, parks, buildings, and neighborhoods. I still get lost, but not as often.
The same goes for acronyms in work environments. Every environment has shorthand ways of referring to people, places, projects, technologies and proposals. When I find myself in a new environment, I make a point of having these acronyms decoded. On one project, I was so overwhelmed with all the acronyms and technical jargon that I produced and distributed a glossary of terms. Much to my surprise, even people who had been there a long time thanked me for the list. Even they had forgotten the meaning of some of the acronyms and jargon!
We have gone from the sublime to what may seem rather trivial, but learning names is never trivial. Whether you hear your name called by the Universal Spirit or by the person next door, there is always something powerful and intimate that happens when your name is called. Get beyond, “Hey, you!” by the simple act of learning names. “Hey, Bob!” will get my attention every time.
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
Thanks for the Wellness Pathway on protecting your skin. I now dutifully lather my face with sunscreen, following the dictates of my doctor (and you can’t imagine how significant this is until you’ve dealt with skin grafting onto your nose after a malignancy!). Or I wear a wide brimmed hat . . . well, it turns out both are better (necessary, actually!). Even wearing the hat, the sun’s harmful rays will get to your face via pavement/sand reflection. Isn’t that cheerful news????? Now, if anyone can enlighten me about how to juggle sunscreen and make-up, I’ll be grateful! Some folks tell me the sunscreen is good for 6 or 8 hours; next time I hear its usefulness is gone in 20 minutes. Sunscreen manufacturers gain if I use more sunscreen; make-up manufacturers want me to find it easy to use their stuff. Know anyone who can speak from an unbiased “reality”? Of course, if I stay in the house exploring the subject on the net I’ll never get outside to encounter the problem! Give my regards to the heron.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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