“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Since I was indeed a baby of the 80s, and grew up with the poignant, albeit cheese-filled rhetoric of that beloved shoe-tossing, cardigan wearing Mr. Rogers, I will admit that he and his neighborly attitude have a soft spot in my heart. But whether or not you can stomach Make-Believe Neighborhood or not, there is a lot to say for the work real people are doing to strengthen real neighborhoods and communities across the country. A common theme for community organizers and leaders in neighborhood building, is building strong relationships with individuals. For those folks doing the great work of community organizing in and around San Francisco, it seems that that good relationship building starts with that first exchange of names…and the ability to remember them an hour, a day, or 3 months later.
In San Francisco, a community group has emerged in the neighborhoods that surround the bike route, The Wiggle. The group’s mission is to be a leader and a model in community sustainability and resilience. Morgan Fitzgibbons, chief ‘Wiggler’ and organizer of the group talks a bit about the importance of remembering names:
“Learning people’s names really is essential to building community. It’s pretty much impossible to build the ‘strong tie’ relationships you need for community work if you don’t know and address someone by their name. It seems like a small thing, but it’s really a major step in building a relationship. Calling someone by their name really makes them feel like they are important to you. And there is a special pleasure in using someone’s name when they don’t expect you to remember – it sets the tone for the relationship and makes you appear very put together.”
Lauren McCarthy, Community Manager at Scoutmob (super cool company that aims to generate a greater community of locals by connecting folks with deals, stories and insider scoops of local businesses/events) speaks to the same truth:
“Learning people’s names is the first step to getting to know our neighbors and a critical step if we are going to collaborate with the right people to make things happen in San Francisco…Names are intimately connected to our identity. I make it my goal to remember the names of people who I see on a regular basis in the neighborhood. It feels so good to say hi to Sharon or Alex at Mission Pies in the morning. I also love to connect people with one another who should meet-and let me tell you, it’s so much easier if you can remember the name of the people you are trying to connect.”
Lauren Markham, an experienced leader and Program Consultant at the Oakland Unified School District, works with refugee families from around the world.
“In my experience, knowing a person’s name is vital to building community and to building trust within and among communities. On a symbolic level, knowing a person’s name shows that you have taken the time and energy to learn that name, and that you are committed to that person as an individual. And on a purely practical level, it simply makes communication and coordination easier as people are automatically more engaged and responsive. I think there’s often an inherent connection between having someone know your name and having a sense that that person sees you, or cares for you in some way.”
As we recognize the increasingly disjointed nature of communities across the country, it is these kinds of efforts to build strength and cohesion amongst neighbors that ought to be celebrated. Focusing in on the simple task of remembering someone’s name, begins that interaction with intention and thoughtfulness; it says, ‘this is my neighbor, this is a connection I care about.’
Check out these guys’ tips and secrets below. They are also early adopters of Namerick, which gathers together some of these age-ole tricks, mixes ‘em up with some new-age magic and VOILA! creates a name-remembering iPhone app of the most neighborly nature!
Tips for Remembering Names from Bay Area Community Organizers:
|Morgan Fitzgibbons||Lauryn McCarthy||Lauren Markham|
|PAY ATTENTION! This is really the biggest thing.||Listen. Really listen||Listen carefully|
|Focus on the person when they are telling you their name.||Repeat names once you’ve learned them||I’m a visual learner, so I have to see the names written.|
|Repeat the name early and often, remind yourself silently in your head during or shortly after your first interactions||Introduce the person you just met to another person (maybe those forced ice breakers were onto something: “this is Allie and she loves apples”)||It helps me to make connections among people: I know Lishara is the adorable six year old, and that woman is her mother. I’ll ask her mother’s name (Maya) and remember them as both individuals and a unit.|
|Don’t be afraid to ask again – even the best of us forget from time to time (although using Namerick will surely help with that!)||Write it down after you meet someone-I know names are important but hey, I’m human and sometimes I forget. Writing a name down and looking at it later can be helpful.|
|Facebook helps keep new people on my peripheral radar. If I run into them at brunch a month down the road, I am better positioned to remember them.|
For more info on the work these three are involved in, check out the links below.