Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Forms of address - more informal, more familiar - not appropriate

After the blog entry I wrote about how to properly address elected officials, I received a number of requests on how to deal with less formal, more commonplace situations where addressing all sorts of people has become extremely relaxed over the years to the point of being disrespectful over the years. I maintain that this is a direct result of generational compensations made by parents as a reaction to their own upbringing. Whatever the reason, the end result diminishes the respect shown to one another in subtle ways which reflect an attitude of laziness, inappropriate familiarity and just plain rudeness.

One reader asks, "Have you addressed the issue of store clerks, bank tellers, and various other folks with whom one has casual business contact calling you by your first name without being invited to do so?" This is a curious dynamic whereby people think that by being more familiar with another person they somehow can become their friend and thereby make the sale or be less threatening. What happens in many cases with this inappropriate familiarity is that the customer is completely put off. Another disrespectful form of address and one of my pet peeves is being called 'babe' or 'hun' by some stranger i.e. shop clerk, taxi driver, bank clerk, etc.

Another reader states, "I have a pet peeve about how the ordinary citizen is addressed, say, in a doctor's office. I am always 'Mary', which I sometimes don't hear because I have a double first name which is Mary Jane. Granted my name is not easy but I could be referred to as Ms. Jones which never happens even if the speaker is 20! Is this lack of effort to call someone by their rightful name because there is overall very little respect for anyone anymore?"

My explanation for this all too common phenomenon is that people simply don't realize that something as simple as how we refer to one another is the very essence of showing respect. We are consumed with the I and me and look for the lazy, easy and I don't care way of conducting ourselves. Without much needed guidance and a modest amount of education people will continue to ignore any of the decency we might show one another.  There is also a carelessness about not listening to or paying attention to a person's name is. It's as though that individual just doesn't matter.

My advice to anyone who thinks this detail really goes unnoticed and doesn't matter is that they are absolutely wrong. There is nothing more personal than one's name. Getting it wrong sends shock waves through most people. This is why it is so important to take the time and make the effort to focus on a person's correct name and title. And if you don't know the person, it is a good idea to call them by their last name (sir name) preceded by Mr., Miss, Mrs. or the unfortunate Ms. form. Only when someone gives you permission to call them by their first name is it okay to do so. If you are introduced by a third party using first names then it is alright to use a first name.

In a professional setting, there is nothing wrong with using formalities. In fact, it is down right rude not to in most cases. Even when going to see your doctor, refer to him or her as 'doctor'. You are seeing them as professionals and they should be addressed accordingly. Similarly, receptionists should not call you by your first name. Familiarity of this sort screams disrespect.

One easy way to teach people how to address one another appropriately is to begin this process at home. We have friends and relatives, each of whom are deserving of being acknowledged by name. In my case, it was Uncle Jim or Aunt Sue or Cousin Bill. I was taught to address friends' parents and other adults as Mr. Jones or Mrs. Smith. There is no reason why children today cannot be taught to address their peers and adults with whom they come into contact, to call them by an appropriate name. "Um, hi" is not an option. And there is always the use of sir or ma'am with which many people have been raised. These are respectful terms and avoid your being crude or ignorant when addressing someone.

We like it when we are called by our name. In fact, we are annoyed when people get our names wrong. Using one another's name is a sign of respect. It shows that you matter and that I have taken the time and effort to remember your name. Addressing someone by their proper name lets that person know that they stand out in your thoughts. Though memory does not always serve us well and we can forget names from time to time, simply admit that you have forgotten a name, apologize and ask for the name again. Since this happens to all of us, it should not be considered bad form. Remember the cardinal rule of recognizing the intent behind what we say. We don't purposely forget names and should not be chastised for it.

Being lazy about how we address one another is a different matter completely. Laziness is oddly enough an act. It is done with purpose albeit minimal. I recommend paying close attention to how we address each other. As it matters to you how you are introduced and spoken to, it matters to everyone else too. We all deserve the same level of respect. This simple act goes a long way in making the communities in which we live more civilized.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Election of Scott Brown

The attention brought to the U.S. Senate race to fill the late Senator Kennedy's seat has been nothing short of astounding. One of the reasons for elections is to make choices. This is a principle of any free society. Why people are so amazed that a Republican could win shows real disrespect for that party and all of the candidates. I am not saying that they have not done their part in earning a certain level of criticism. What is interesting is that so much power has been heaped on the outcome of this race. The entire health care reform movement is at stake. This is of course ridiculous. I seriously doubt that a little known politician can have that kind of impact. His vote on the matter is after all no more important than anyone else's. If the bill before Congress is so fragile that Senator Brown's election, and subsequent leveling of the playing field, has this effect, then the bill is seriously flawed to begin with. Politics at its worst is being played out before our very eyes with a critically important piece of legislation. We as a constituency are pawns in a squabble that has its roots spread through many fields other than health care reform. Congress is making a gross mistake with this injustice. If they can't see how disrespectful they are being of the American people, my guess is that quite a few of them will be seeking employment elsewhere come election day. The American public deserves more respect from their elected officials and everyone knows it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What will we learn from Haiti

Perhaps the greatest natural disaster in my lifetime has occurred in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Most of us have never seen anything like this. The news media is bringing this devastation to life unlike any other event they have ever covered. Compassion has never been more needed than it is right now. The world must and will, I believe, respond. How they respond will be carefully noted. This horrific situation brings humanity to its knees. We suddenly are thrown into the rawest form of the need to show the utmost respect for our fellow man. We know few or none of these persons individually. That does not deter us from coming to their aid. The logistical problems are immediately insurmountable, but step by step this tragedy will heal. This is a fine opportunity to come together for the good of others because it is the right thing to do. It will make us feel better to do something, anything we can. In so doing, respect, grace and compassion will be our surest guide.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Real Health Care Reform

Perhaps one of the most time consuming and important issues Congress addressed in 2009 and will continue to consider long into the future is that of Health Insurance Reform, cloaked in the more soothing heading of health care reform. I personally do not put my health care decisions in the hands of any government or individual health care practitioner, especially any medical professional. I sincerely hope that we take a lot of our own personal time in the coming days, months and years to give our bodies and our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health maintenance the respect and attention only we can give it ourselves. I am suggesting taking back some of the power we so willingly turned over to forces outside of ourselves, specifically the medical profession and insurance and drug industries. Relying on the knowledge for which people have been trained is critical. Discerning which people now what knowledge is paramount to the success of our maintenance program.

Our health and well being has improved immeasurably in no small part as a result of huge strides in the study of medicine. Antibiotics, anaethesia, vaccinations and a host of other incredible discoveries has afforded mankind a greatly improved survival rate. Remember there are a lot of people who have no access to medical care. There are also millions who choose non medical therapeutic modalities such as homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture, herbal remedies and a whole host of others which provide great relief to the suffering and ailing. Consider the reasons why these healing arts have survived over the millennia.

There is a fundamental difference between healing and suppressive treatment. There is a difference between acute and chronic conditions. There is also a lack of awareness in ourselves about how these concepts relate to ourselves. I am suggesting that we need to raise that level of awareness. This will increase our level of respect for ourselves which will make it possible for us to increase our respect for those around us.

Become the quarterback for your own health care team. No one cares more about you or knows more about you than you yourself.