A few years ago I ran across Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame (me and about 6 million other people). The video provoked me to read Brown’s work, and I spent a few years working through her academic research, books, and articles. I think her best written work is in The Gifts of Imperfection, but honestly Brown’s strength is not her writing. It’s her speaking. Brown is a captivating public speaker with a phenomenal ability to connect to an audience that simply doesn’t translate into print.
Apart from her research, the most important work Brown has put out there has nothing to do with Oprah or her TED talks, it’s a six and a half hour lecture series called The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage. I’m not big into self-help, but this goes far beyond that. If you are anywhere near entering into the spiritual challenges of the second half of life, I would call this essential listening.
One of the many understated hidden gems in these talks is Brene’ Brown’s confession of their family rule against name calling. No name calling. Not ever. Even people you don’t know, who are on television, and attempting to provoke you to name calling… just don’t do it. that’s the rule. It’s brilliant, and as it turns out, it is a powerful tool against fostering hatred.
Naming is an attempt to define something, often by its very worst attributes. Name calling allows us to ignore the complex nature of the human person, and the way that every single one of us is a mixed bag. It reveals a heart far too willing to dismiss those who cause me tension, make me feel threatened or small. Name calling is a cheap and easy way to objectify another human being, or group. Name calling allows us to dismiss or disparage other people without reference to our common humanity. The practice of name calling is for those who are too lazy to stand up for what they believe in with sound argument and humble critique.
The headwaters of hatred begin right here with name calling.
My wife and I listened to the lectures together while on vacation one year, and decided to implement the rule in our own family. No name calling under any circumstances has been a hard and fast rule in our household for several years now: don’t call people disparaging names… not the athlete on the TV, not each other, not your friends, and especially not yourself. That’s where the real wisdom of Brene’ Brown’s no-name-calling rule bubbled to the surface. The rule against name calling helped me come to grips with the ways I name myself.
A few days into the no-name-calling era I was standing in a parking lot outside my car sweating buckets. It was a good 105 degrees in Kansas that day, and I couldn’t find my keys. My frustration was mounting because I was becoming more and more late for my next appointment (this is a common theme in my life–it’s an ADHD thing). In the midst of my frustration my unconscious inner voice cleared its throat, raised it’s head, and fired a quick invective toward my conscious mind. “Find your keys you f-ing idiot.”
I would blame my subconscious’ foul mouth on the Kansas heat (I turn into a whiney grump anytime the temperature eclipses 85 degrees), but this name was all to familiar. I stopped dead in my tracks. Holy crap, I thought. Is that the name I call myself? In fact, that’s the name I’ve been calling myself for years–probably reaching back to college. Over the next few weeks I began carefully observing my inner name calling. My first thought was that my inner dialogue needs its mouth washed out with soap. My second thought was: I would never talk to another human being this way. Why am I talking to myself like this?
Refusing to practice name-calling has also opened my eyes to how often we disparage other people in our society. It’s all too common. When I hear someone around me call another person a name–idiot, fool, weirdo–it is jarring. It hurts my ears. Now and then I slip up and call someone a name (usually while watching a sporting event, and usually the name jack-wagon, which is both adaptable and fun to say). The sound of my own voice illegitimately naming another human being stops me in my tracks–that and the hail of correction from other members of my family hollering, “Hey! No name calling”–and forces me to observe my own heart. Why so angry? Why so insecure? What kind of contempt have I been harboring that allows me to disparage a precious child of God (even Blue-Jay bat-flippers)?
Hatred is like love, it must be fostered over time. Name calling is the first monumental step in the direction of hatred. Name calling fosters an attitude of superiority and contempt. Habitual name calling is the hate incubator. It’s not easy because name calling is so common in our culture, but I’m doing everything I can to root it out of my own life. You should try it to. Kick name-calling to the curb and feel the love.