In a Seinfeld episode, which has as one of its story lines the mayoral race for NYC, a suggestion of name tags was given to one of the mayoral candidates. It was suggested that to make NYC a more friendly city everyone should use name tags. That candidate went on to loose the election. In another episode it was suggested that everyone post their picture with their name on it in the lobby of the building where a couple of the characters lived. That ended horribly for the main character who had grown quite tired of the ‘kiss hello’. He was isolated socially and everyone in the building wanted him to move out.
Today if it isn’t coffee shops writing their names on the cups they serve you they are asking you for your name so they can call you when the order is ready. It is as if an inoculation via one’s name is required for such mundane social interactions that hold no significant meaning at all. I mean, really, no-one wants to know everyone else’s name. This is all just a gimmick isn’t it? Recently, my wife and I went to a chain restaurant where the server – before we were allowed to ask for drinks or order food – wrote her name upside down on the paper table cloth so we could read it. My wife responded by taking a crayon supplied by the restaurant and wrote down two fictitious names on that same paper table cloth. Neither us or the server referred to each other by our names so I am not sure what the point of any of that was at all.
It is as if we – as a society – want to portray ourselves as being more sociable than we actually are or present a persona that we genuinely want to know ‘our neighbors’.
Um, no. And herein lies the problem. Well, my problem I suppose as everyone else around me seems perfectly fine with the state of things.
Recently a new family moved in right next door and I made a point of walking over and introducing myself – an attempt to be neighborly. They were a bit stand-offish, uncertain who I was and why I was there. They didn’t offer up too much information and our interactions since reflect yet another Seinfeld episode where the female lead character is lamenting that a social interaction that begun with a, “Hello! How are you today” has dissolved into an awkward pretending that the two people don’t know each other any longer whenever they pass each other on the street.
It has only been two weeks and we have already dissolved to that stage.
It would seem instead of having neighbors we each have micro-communities with security bubbles around them. We don’t really trust each other and we are not really even sure if we like each other but we are not really sure why. Or, maybe again that is only me but in all fairness to myself, my neighbors didn’t come running over to our home when we moved in almost five years ago to welcome us to the neighborhood. That is, apart from our elderly neighbor who needed to provide us with some rules on being his neighbor.
However, the deeper issue here is that we (I) don’t really want to be known – not by a ‘stranger’ anyway. This blog is a perfect example of that. I have no name, no real identity, no distinguishing way of figuring out who I am, where I live, ect, and I have done that purposely. Why? Well in part to draw attention to the strangers walking among us – all with their own story to tell and yet we ignore them in place of the celebrity or the most outgoing person at work or at church or in whatever social group. The nameless ones among us still have a story that is worth listening to but we don’t really take the time to care.
Even when I examine this blog I can find a comparison of social isolation versus social success as an example. I have a pastor friend who is very outgoing but has been battling depression for a long time. He has now been off work for several months due to his depression and in the midst of it he decided to start a blog. He is a pastor of a church around 100 people in a community no bigger than around 7500 people. He started his blog by saying his name, providing a picture, and declaring that he has depression. Now 20 entries later, and over the course of a couple of months, his readership and blog views boasts 10 times my own numbers. If only I had mentioned my name, shared my picture, and included pictures in my blog – perhaps I too would reach the same levels of social acceptance.
Or, perhaps not. Perhaps it takes much more than including my name, a picture of who I am, and ongoing pictures on my blog, before I can find the same level of ‘popularity’ as my pastor friend has. I am not sure and I am not giving it a lot of thought because – again as stated before – I am not writing this blog for popularity’s sake – I am writing it as an illustration – an example of how many nameless people walk past us each and every day all with amazing fascinating stories to tell but no-one is listening. This blog is for them. Perhaps that person would read my blog and identify with one of the stories I tell and can put in their own name and place – into the blanks I provide – and perhaps they may feel compelled to tell their amazing story.
And, imagine that – someone sitting in isolation right now – being invited to share their story their way, in their time, without having to give up their name or be forced into some sort of weird guilty social awkwardness where giving up one’s name feels like giving up one’s virginity on some loser who is not going to call you the next day and you know it. Yes, I have a name and I chose not to share it – not because I don’t want to but because I am interested in authenticity – in meaningful relationships – something long lasting and not temporal like my named coffee cup that I will throw away in half an hour.