By any other name…

In 1966, Neil Diamond had his first big hit with “Solitary Man.” I’ve listened to the song a hundred times and more, and while the official lyrics will tell you the first line is, “Melinda was mine…” I still swear he’s singing, “Belinda…”

It makes sense. A hard consonant like “B” is easier to punch than a soft consonant like “M.” Now, Melinda is the more common name (although in 1966 “Belinda” was still in the top 2000 names for girls), but I don’t know that that should really matter.

And this is xxx, our director of consumer relations
And this is Buffy, our director of consumer relations…

Over the years I’ve watched characters with my name for the image they project, and for a very long time anyone who showed up on a television show or movie with the name “Belinda” was a nasty piece of work or a prostitute. Shelly Long played a call girl named Belinda in the 1982 comedy “Night Shift,” and in any number of television programs over the years there have been some real witches with my name.

The current sitcom “The Middle” had an overweight, shall we say athletic-looking woman named Belinda on one episode a couple of years ago, and on “Younger” we met an elderly woman named Belinda O’Shea who wrote romance novels, kind of a Danielle Steel character, earlier this summer.

When you have a less-than-common name, you notice things like this.

Several years ago, while I worked in a bookstore, I read a guide to naming your child that told me people think of girls named Belinda as overweight, overly shy and somewhat pathetic.

Well, you can just jump in a lake of fire with that thought.

Peggy, right...am I right or what
This is Peggy, right?

It’s somewhat strange to me that we have stereotypes for names, yet when I think of someone named “Veronica,” she is slender, with a sweet smile and long, straight hair, and “Giselle” is offbeat, with a sophisticated cap of hair and a throaty laugh. I’ve never known anyone with either of those names, by the way, so the image is purely from popular culture.

When you send out a resume, what image do others form of you from your name in bold letters at the top? Some of my fellow bloggers from other nations or with different ethnicities may fear (or hope) they’ll be identified by race by their name.

Curiously, according to this same book, the name “Jason” has a distinct image of a likable, happy guy, everyone’s friend, despite being the most popular name for baby boys for many years (you’d think commonness would diminish a stereotype), and a rather nasty character in a series of films some time back.

We know and can trace the origins of many stereotypes, and some even have a basis in truth that makes them more difficult to dispel. Judging someone sight-unseen by their name is a subtle prejudice, and makes me wonder what other quiet ways we judge our world, our neighbors, our co-workers without realizing it.

And if I could change my name, what would I choose?

Solitary

Image Credits: © ivector — stock.adobe.com

Hidden Truths, Secret Sorrows

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our face is a mask, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent.

Recently a friend of mine was taking an online test about reading emotions, and not doing too well. She was frustrated. I suspect the test was flawed in multiple ways, and even if she did read the emotions correctly, there’s never any way to be certain of the reason for the feelings. We can’t read minds, and we don’t know all that is happening in anyone’s life.

Someone may smile at something we said because it ties in with a conversation they had only a moment before. We’re unaware of what was said, however, and think they’re smiling inappropriately at our tale, and become frustrated. It happens everyday.

That’s a simple misunderstanding. Just as we don’t know what is spoken in the moments before we join a discussion, we most often have no way of fully knowing what’s happening in the lives of those around us. People are discreet enough generally to keep their private lives private, and sometimes they do so almost to a fault.

I have a friend who was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s last year, and I never knew until shortly before her mom died. She and I had been working on a project together and I’d wondered why she’d lost her enthusiasm for it. Was it something I said? Had I been too controlling? I can get stuck in my ways. Now, that could have been the case, but more likely, she simply had other priorities.

She kept up a brave face around me, and maybe wondered why I never asked how her mom was doing. You see, others knew. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have known. We live in a communication age, but our own personal interactions frequently suffer from presumptions and assumptions all around. We rely too much on expectations and, as I alluded to above, expressions of emotion.

How we view our peers and others around us is more than just reading facial expressions, of course.

As well as how they view us. We’re born with a look that defines us, or helps others think they can define us. We grow and mature and that look changes and develops with us, but never truly reflects all that we are. It limits our definition of ourselves to other people.

When I was in high school, I peripherally was friends with a young woman, a year older than I, who to this day I’d have to say was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Another woman in my group described her by saying, “she looks like a cover girl, only she hasn’t been airbrushed.” The only person to come close to matching her beauty (and it may be a tie) was her younger sister.
woman eyes with flower, color pencil drawing, eye contact. Computer collage.
But beauty had its price. Let me add here these were two of the nicest, most sincere women you’d ever meet as well, and their parents were great people. Yet despite all the kindness they’d show to others, they were subject to vicious rumors and gossip simply because of petty jealousy. They faced other problems directly related to their looks, such as expectations from men when they were far too young to handle that sort of thing, and so on. It wasn’t fair.

The older girl, my friend, was often cautious around other people, knowing what they would be saying as soon as she left the room. That in turn led to talk she was “stuck-up” because she’d be reluctant to open up to someone new, or even those she knew well enough already.

We make judgments sometimes to feel in control of a situation. If we understand what’s going on, we can deal with it, so we seek an answer — and run the risk of being horribly wrong.

How do we discern a person’s heart?

Respecting another’s privacy is an important value to many of us, and in doing so, we also must respect we will likely give up some knowledge we may find useful, whether we have a right to it or not. That knowledge includes the ability, at times, to fully understand someone’s painful history and appreciate their distant behavior as a symptom of that aching within themselves.

I do believe we should, in general, live with an attitude every person is far more complex than we can recognize when we first meet them. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, understanding we don’t know what secret sorrows they face, is the gracious thing to do.

Having that open mind and open heart, giving others a chance to reveal themselves, will help teach us the perception and insight we seek. It is immensely rewarding to be the one who discovers the cold and bitter outsider is a warm, kind person waiting to be loved.

Yes, we must always use discretion when reaching out to others to save ourselves from being taken advantage of by manipulative and greedy people. A slow and steady approach of grace with the counsel of others is always wise.

Grace, wisdom, warmth of spirit. Gifts of human kindness that can change the world.

Oil painting nature grass flowers- yellow dandelions

 


Image Credits: (Masks) © tereks — Fotolia; (Face) © jozefklopacka — Fotolia; (Flowers) © nongkran-ch — Fotolia