February 25, 2017

May your name lead us to peace

I was governor of the Pacific Northwest District in 2009-2010. It was my observation at the time that our members were not welcoming to strangers. Optimist Clubs, and other groups, get caught in a routine and if you are part of the group, you know what's going on including the inside jokes and calendar of events. I encouraged the clubs to change their ways; I advised, open the doors, put out the welcome sign, mix up the seating arrangements and get rid of the questionable jokes so that others might feel like they want to be a part of the Optimist Club. It worked. The PNW District saw almost 8% net growth that administrative year.

Surprisingly, in 2010, Optimist International stumbled on the same idea and they introduced Hello, my name is Scott to our groups.

If you remember, Scott is the guy who wears a nametag 24/7/365. He says that one day, leaving a seminar, he saw the wastebasket full of the nametags that people had discarded and he thought how sad that looked. Our names mean more than something to throw away. Right then, Scott began wearing his nametag and he found people to be friendlier, and more open to conversation simply because he was wearing his name on the outside, loud and proud. He made the first move to be open to conversation and others, not all, but many, took the second step to engage.

Unfortunately, Optimist International did not see the marked growth from the effort as we did in the PNW District. We could make many speculations on why that was so, but I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with the fact that most people seem to be comfortable with who they are and who they know and have little room for those who are different.

It's been six years since those experiments. The United States has changed since then, especially with the politics, rhetoric and policies being set forth by a new Republican administration. There are more sideways glances than ever being given to those who look different from us and the media, driven by the actions of the President of the United States, are reporting the most negative stereotypes on a daily basis.



A Canadian friend shared this Tedx talk with me from the Mile High City, Denver, Colorado. In it, a charming young lady, Amal Kassir, shares a story she calls "The Muslim on the airplane." Among other things, she says we must share our names because our names tell an individual's story as only they can tell it.

We can't allow others to look at us and assign our names because they may very likely get it wrong.

The presentation is quite wonderful and much more profound than the Nametag Guy; but really, it's the same story. Be open to others. Embrace their differences and share yours. Your shared actions will lead to understanding and understanding will lead to peace.
 
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