I didn’t know my name was Dennis until about age 6. 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 the rate of recent youth suicides due to cyber 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 heart breaking. Working in the space I do can sometimes bring me to feeling so incompetent and overwhelmed – this is one such time. My frustration is that come the next major news cycle, or more specifically the social media cycle, focus will just move on to 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, become too precious – this life is not about walking on egg shells. Boofhead to me is a term of endearment – but to others?
I am also conscious that many of the readers have recently farewelled their children to boarding school. How can you protect them from afar?
I think I know the answer. It is an established answer – one that is so simple but sadly, is 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. We must be empathetic.
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 on 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. How we listen and react to each other’s feelings are an integral part of teaching empathy.
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.