What we call each other
Do we recognize the humanity of each person we interact with on a daily basis?
If we did recognize the humanity of each other, how would it change how way we take care of each other in life? How would it change the way we take care of each other during the dying process (aka life)?
A few weeks ago, I met an unhoused person sitting on a bench outside of the library. They asked me if I had a few minutes, so I walked closer to them. They then asked me if I had any change to help them buy a hamburger. They live with diabetes and were concerned about their blood sugar dropping below a safe level. I told them I would check and went to my car to do that. When I came back, they asked me my name and I then asked their name. With tears in their eyes, they told me their name.
If they hadn’t asked me my name, I do not know that I would have asked them what their name was. I would have been happy to help them in what little way I could that day, but I would not have acknowledged their humanity by addressing them by name. And when I saw the tears in their eyes, it made me wonder how many times they have interacted with someone without them asking their name.
Two weeks later, I met an unhoused person outside of a grocery store. They asked me my name and when I asked for theirs, they held out both hands to shake my hand. They held eye contact with me for several seconds.
These two interactions have stuck with me. Are we moving through this world namelessly? Are we treating others as nameless? When we apply this label of anonymity to each other, are we “othering” each other? Are we holding ourselves away from the pains, the fears, the joys, the love of others?
Do we take the time to ask people their names? Their pronouns?
How can we care for each other in a meaningful way if we do not take the time to learn what to call each other? Caring for each other has to start with seeing each other.
Thank you to one of my close friends for the title of this post. When I was telling her this story, she said, “It makes you wonder about what we call each other, doesn’t it?” I told her it did and asked if I could use that phrasing for this discussion.