Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the art of naming things

(Please watch.)

What's your reaction?
Mine was...And why is this controversial? Critics say this campaign in Georgia (The state with the second highest numbers when it comes to childhood obesity--nearly 1 million children) could heighten the stigma toward obese children/adults.

Others believe calling it like it is may help call people to action. This is a real problem. Hence the "Stop sugarcoating it, Georgia" tagline. I happen to be on this side.

I read once in NPR's collection of essays entitled "This I Believe" (a must read, by the way) the beliefs of Eve Ensler (writer of The Vagina Monologues) and it totally stuck with me.

She writes: I believe in the power and mystery of naming things. Language has the capacity to transform our cells, rearrange our learned patterns of behavior and redirect our thinking. I believe in naming what's right in front of us because that is often what is most invisible...When I was finally able as an adult to sit with my mother and name the specific sexual and physical violence my father had perpetrated on me as a child, it was an impossible moment. It was the naming, the saying of what had actually happened in her presence that lifted my 20-year depression. By remaining silent, I had muted my experience, denied it, pushed it down. This had flattened my entire life. I believe it was this moment of naming that allowed both my mother and I to eventually face our deepest demons and deceptions and become free...Naming things, breaking through taboos and denial is the most dangerous, terrifying and crucial work. This has to happen in spite of political climates or coercions, in spite of careers being won or lost, in spite of the fear of being criticized, outcast or disliked. I believe freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it. {Read the full essay here.}

The child in this video is naming something. His size. He wants to know why he is--fat. Maybe the nicer word is overweight. But sometimes not calling it the politically correct or polite name has a little bit more power. Why? Because if this kid is teased for his weight he isn't called obese or overweight, he's called fat. I'm guessing when he looks in the mirror he doesn't feel big boned or chunky or above average. He feels fat. He is naming what he feels. And for those of us watching, it feels a little bit uncomfortable, doesn't it? It should. It's not a nice word. But its a real word that's used often in the real world pertaining to a real problem.

I side with Ensler on the ideal that naming something--no matter how painful--is freeing. Asking this tough question isn't going to increase a stigma. It's going to help end it.

Take mental wellness for instance. A subject I am very passionate about (and about to study for the next Lord knows how many years of my life). The fight against this stigma is huge. People with mental illness who receive treatment may be ostracized by friends or family. But those who go--name it, and then share it--may help those very people to accept it. Because they've know Susie or Bob or Joe as their baseball buddy, shopping partner, or confidant, not a mental illness.

On the other side of the equation are the people with mental illness who don't receive treatment because of what others may say. But what finally happens when a person with an issue goes to therapy? It is named. Depression. Bipolar Disorder. Anxiety. If you've ever been to therapy you know that is is full of naming things--so you can deal with them.

Think of an alcoholic. What is the first step in recovery? Calling it like it is. Saying you're an alcoholic.

The thing is, there is no shame in naming things...because we all have something to name. It may feel embarrassing, or you may wonder who is going to judge you, but the truth is, it takes a heart full of courage to be able to do it. So, to the kid in this video who asks his mom the tough question, kudos to you. You are brave, you are courageous, you are a hero. Because thousands of kids like you are going to start asking their parents the same question.

"...the truth will set you free." John 8:32

Of course, this is just my humble opinion. What do you all think?

No comments:

Post a Comment