Daily Riches: Naming–The Root of Empathy and Intimacy (Maria Popova, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Bob Dylan)

“Words are simply the signs of things. But many people treat things as though they were the signs and illustrations of words.” Aldous Huxley

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“To name a thing is to acknowledge its existence as separate from everything else that has a name; to confer upon it the dignity of autonomy while at the same time affirming its belonging with the rest of the namable world; to transform its strangeness into familiarity, which is the root of empathy. To name is to pay attention; to name is to love. Parents name their babies as a first nonbiological marker of individuality amid the human lot; lovers give each other private nicknames that sanctify their intimacy; it is only when we began naming domesticated animals that they stopped being animals and became pets. . . . And yet names are words, and words have a way of obscuring or warping the true meanings of their objects. ‘Words belong to each other,’ Virginia Woolf observed . . . and so they are more accountable to other words than to the often unnamable essences of the things they signify. . . . Naming is an act of redemption and a special form of paying attention, which [Robin Wall] Kimmerer captures beautifully:

Having words for these forms [of various mosses] makes the differences between them so much more obvious. With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see. . . . Having words also creates an intimacy with the plant that speaks of careful observation. . . . In indigenous ways of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Words and names are the ways we humans build relationships . . . . Intimate connection allows recognition in an all-too-often anonymous world. . . . Intimacy gives us a different way of seeing.'” Maria Popova

“Whatever the man called each living creature,
that was its name.”
Genesis 2:19b NIV

“He saw an animal that liked to snort.
Horns on his head and they weren’t too short.
It looked like there wasn’t nothin’ that he couldn’t pull.
‘Ah, think I’ll call it a bull.”
Bob Dylan, “Man Gave Names To All the Animals”

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Have you realized the predictable difference between “what something is” and “what it is to you”?
  • Can you see how much power exists in naming? . . . both for great good and for great harm?
  • Can you see how finding the right words can help you “see more clearly?” . . . love more readily?

Abba, break my addition to assumptions and labels for the sake of love.

For More: “Autism From the Inside” by Katherine May

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