I DIDN'T know my name was Dennis until about the age of six. I thought it was Boofhead.
Dad always referred to me (and my brothers for that matter) by this nickname. Granted, it was more of a term of endearment, but it stuck with me. Because words can do that.
There has never been a worse saying than the old children's rhyme that "sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. Words and names can most definitely hurt.
Like many readers, I am aghast at recent youth suicides due to bullying. One name has already defined 2018 for me - Dolly. What that young girl must have gone through and what her family and friends are going through now is unspeakable and heartbreaking. Working in the space I do can sometimes make me feel so incompetent and overwhelmed. This is one such time. My frustration is that come the next major news cycle, or more specifically the next social media cycle, focus will just move onto the next tragedy. It gets me so angry and leaves me empty. What have we allowed social media to do?
So, I am left thinking - how can I help? What can we do? At the same time, how do we find the balance where we must not allow ourselves or others, to become too precious? This life is not about walking on eggshells. Boofhead is still a term of endearment to me... but to others?
I am also conscious that many readers have recently farewelled their children as they headed off to boarding school. How can you protect them from afar?
I think I know the answer. So simple but, sadly, greatly lacking in the world. The lack of it leads to loneliness, bullying, sadness, and a wide range of dysfunctional behaviour.
It is empathy. We must embrace, live, and teach empathy. Empathy - understanding and sharing other people's experiences and emotions.
Empathy, I think, can be used in many ways. It can help me understand your point of view whether I agree with it or not. More importantly, we can use it to reframe how we are affected by others' behaviour. I can reframe my experience by saying "that person is demonstrating these behaviours and saying these things that I find hurtful. I wish they wouldn't say those things but I know I'm a good person. I wonder what causes them to be this way? I feel sorry for them, I will choose to ignore them”. Nothing strips power from a bully more than having the behaviour called out and being ignored.
This may not be the script for you, so why not have a family conversation about what your family script is. We have all experienced names that have hurt us. Surely it would help if our children could see us express our hurt and hear us talk about how we dealt with it.
We can't change what has happened. But we are obliged to learn from it, grow, and be determined that it will never happen again. Too much depends on it.