The Power Pilgrimage
I invite you to continue with me on a pilgrimage on exploring and discovering how power is showing up in our lives. In the first of these series, we began with the invitation to begin a pilgrimage on power. Click on the live links below to access the previous articles.
We first addressed the power of identity and how it is fluid. We addressed how it relates to your social location. Although we come to the planet with a unique imprint, nature, or our core personality, we are shaped and influenced by nurture – they family we grew up in and our social location. For instance, an African American woman and her realities living here in the US are very different from those of an Aborigine woman from Australia, or a member of a European royal family, although there may be some overlap.
Then we addressed how our socialization addresses how we take in our social location. With our primary socialization of family, teachers, and people we love and trust, we are informed on the expectations, norms, values, roles, and rules of society. These are based on core foundational attributes of “self-love, hope, self-esteem, balance, joy, support, security, spiritual base and authentic love of others” (Harro, 1982, The Cycle of Liberation). Our secondary socialization is reinforced by our institutions such as churches, schools, tv, the legal system, medicine, businesses.
We then addressed the power of culture. Our cultures shape us by mesmerizing us into a lull and we can end up living in a very small bubble and we end up numbing out on a “cultural treadmill” of life. We become unaware of things that are programming us like a computer. We end up not questioning the unconscious and conscious effect of cultural conditioning and we end up exerting dominance over others to get them to conform to our culture or show them our cultural superiority.
Today, we move into the power of naming and how it helps us temper the effects of our social location, socialization, and culture.
Please grab a notebook, open a document on your computer and begin to take notes each time you read this weekly. Each week will build on the previous week and there will be exercises and resources you can use. This is a working series and if you put the work into it, you will come out of the other side of it with a profoundly different but wonderful sense of your personhood and your ability to effect change in your life and in the world.
The Power of Naming
I recently saw a 2017 video of a haka by these fierce women rugby players of the Black Ferns of New Zealand. It was beautiful. I so love hakas. They are primordial, and they stir up deep feelings in me.
It reminded me about the Yoruba “Oriki” and how it has the same effect on me. Oriki is poetry and each family has its own personal “Oriki.” I remember one of my father’s cousins coming to see me about 15 years ago as she drove through Georgia, and as she ascended from the car, she called my name and started singing this poem to me and I just started weeping. I did not even understand all the words, but my soul understood.
Then I read some of the comments for the haka video and shook my head in deep sadness. I love me some Jesus, but honey, we Christians have done some damage on this planet. People were commenting saying it was demon possession and evil. No, it is not demon possession. It is culture. It is a tribe of people setting a circumference around themselves and saying, “This is who we are.” It is an introduction. It is a naming. A self-naming. It is self-identified and reclaimed power.
This got me thinking about how we name things. Naming something gives it legitimacy. When you are born, you are immediately given a unique name so that you can be distinguished from all the other babies in the hospital. Think of botany and trees and animals and how they are names to distinguish them.
Naming reclaims the soul of an entity. Naming gives it permission to be its unique self, separate from everything else. Naming is a grace that nurtures the essence of life within the person.
Naming is a sacred act. Naming gives legitimacy. We must name our people. We must also name experiences.
What I realized about naming is that it is an invitation to connect and engage with another. A main purpose of naming is for engagement with others so we can exchange information.
“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.” – Maria Popova
TS Elliot helps us think about naming with his poem, “The Naming of Cats:”
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey —
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover —
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
Are we not entitled to the same naming? This poem refers to the names that everyone gives us, those names, i.e., labels of belonging that invoke our dignity that maybe our loved ones give us, and those quiet names that we call ourselves. Let us discover more about how we are using the power of naming in our lives.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Nomenclature,” the system of naming, is defined as “The devising or choosing of names for things, especially in a science or other discipline.”
There is intentionality to naming. Thus, there is intentionality to not naming. When you choose not to name a person by knowing the person’s name, you are making a statement. When you choose to use labels instead of names you are making a statement. When you choose to ignore an experience and not name it, you are making a statement.
Emotional Intelligence Aspect:
To help us explore how we are using the power of naming, we shall use the Emotional Intelligence aspect of Independence. This is described is the ability to be self-directed and self-controlled in your thinking and actions and to be free of emotional dependency. Independent people are self-reliant in planning and making important decisions. They may consider other’s opinions. But they function autonomously.
This ability to be independent will help you separate from the socialization and acculturation that you have experienced. This independence will help you name those areas of blindness that create some discomfort.
The Effects of Naming:
Orientation – Your Original Design:
One of my favorite Bible stories is Adam naming the animals. In Genesis 2:19, the Bible tells us that God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them and whatever he called each living creature, that was its name.
That statement has a lot of power in it! This capacity to name has an authority and a definitiveness to it. We are all given names. Some cultures have patterns of giving babies names intentionally. Others, make up names, which is also powerful.
Also, we name experiences like grief. If someone you love dies, you are supposed to grieve and honor the person. The word grief actually helps you name those hard feelings we have and hold in our chest. We hold baby showers, naming ceremonies, baptisms, funerals, weddings and all sorts of cultural events that “name” and give power to the life cycle. This authorizes the event as recognized by the larger community.
I think of my own name. Confession time: My birth certificate shows my first name as an English name but over the years, I dropped this name and it is no longer on any official document. I was named after my grand aunt, but I was always called “Iyabo” at home. In high school, I tried out this English name but the nickname they gave me, I did not like. LOL. I stuck with Iyabo!
My name means “Grandmother has returned.” In Yoruba culture, we believe in reincarnation but in our system of reincarnation, you return to the same family, as the same gender. Thus, I am the embodiment of the ancestral female energy in my lineage. Both my grandmothers predeceased me and so they return to the family through me. Also, my mother’s aunt, is also part of the grandmas I represent.
This afforded me special attention which I enjoyed tremendously. Every Yoruba person meets me and lets me know that they understand I am actually a grandma!!! They may ask questions like, “Which of your grandmas died before you were born?” When I tell them about my three grandma’s, their eyes gleam with respect and recognition.
Here in America, I often have to help people pronounce my name as they have a hard time with all the vowels.
Partners have called me different pet names. My sister has her own name for me. My Godfather calls me a loving, particular name as well. However, the most significant name I have ever had was my father’s pet name for me. It still makes me smile and tugs at my heart. No one else calls me “Bomboh!”
I found it surprising when I came to this country that people would ask me for my “nickname.” I still don’t have one until today. Whereas, when I meet certain Yoruba people, they will call me “Iyabode” which is the official full name. However, my father left off the last syllable on my name and I stick by his version of my name. Most Yoruba people just shake their heads and look at me with pity as they try to grasp the concept of “an incomplete name.”
In Yoruba culture, we allow a child to tell us the child’s name. We do not name babies immediately. We observe the nuances of the personality and wait to see the behavior of the child. Usually, naming occurs 7 days after birth. Now, this is a problem for us immigrants when we come to this country and the hospital asks for a name immediately after birth!
Questions to Ponder: How were you named? What naming processes matter to you? What names are meaningful to you? Do you have pet names for your loved ones? Do you have naming rituals and patterns in your family? How did your social location, socialization, and culture impact your understanding of naming?
Disorientation – Where It All Went Wrong:
Naming is powerful even in our systems. The titles we have at our jobs are part of the naming system we are a part of. Sometimes instead of specifically naming a person, we attribute their circumstances as their name. For instance, we refer to “the homeless” instead of “humans currently experiencing homelessness.” This is how we create a negative relationship dynamic by not naming the experiences of others.
Proper naming is core to our identity and our experiences.
Consider the prison population. They are given numbers and referred to by their institutionally generated numbers and not their names. They are described by the media as their crime. They are named according to their crime. One moment of their lives becomes their name. This is a key way we oppress people. We put them in one category and label them based on that category. We take the experience of individuality away from them and lump them together under a negative label.
The woman who got sick and tired of being raped by her husband and got into a fight with him and grabbed the kitchen knife and killed him becomes a murderer. Oppression results when we do not recognize the uniqueness and individuality of a named person.
Iris Marion Young, a former professor at the University of Chicago, defines oppression in the Five Faces of Oppression, as “when people reduce the potential for other people to be fully human.”
Here is the important thing to recognize about oppression:
- It is intentional.
- It is diminishing – it takes away that essence of the fullness of life.
- It is based on abuses of comparison and competition.
She goes on to explain the five different faces of oppression:
- Exploitation is the act of using people’s labors to produce profit and not compensate them fairly. Exploitation uses capitalism to oppress workers and creates a system that perpetuates class difference. For example, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame makes $325 million dollars each day. Yet, many Amazon employees complain of poor working conditions and many are on food stamps as they cannot feed their families. When it comes to Amazon, we all know the “name” of Jeff Bezos but we do not know the names of the faceless people that work for this company.
- Marginalization is “the act of relegating or confining a group of people to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge of society. Overall, it is a process of exclusion.” Marginalization expels a whole category of people based on their inability to be useful in labor or even socially. With marginalization comes severe material deprivation and sometimes extermination. For example, African Americans are marginalized in this country. Although there are individual exceptions, for the most part, many live in urban communities that are food deserts, the schools are inadequately staffed and funded, and are unfairly targeted through mass incarceration.
- Powerlessness is where some people are “haves” and others are “have nots.” “Some of the fundamental injustices associated with powerlessness are the inhibition to develop one’s capacities, lack of decision making power, and exposure to disrespectful treatment because of the lowered status.” Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educational philosopher, says that powerlessness allows people to oppress themselves and others. Powerlessness creates a culture of silence where naming does not occur. For example, people returning from incarceration are not allowed to vote in most states for a significant period of time or even their lifetimes. Voting is an expression of the power of citizen. Elimination of voting rights renders a person nameless in the electoral process.
- Cultural Imperialism “involves taking the culture of the ruling class and establishing it as the norm.” With this type of oppression, people are marked by stereotypes and are made to feel invisible. They lose a sense of identity and naming becomes impossible. For example, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab not being able to rise through the ranks in corporate America because her head covering speaks to her religious identity. Thus, she is rejected and alienated. She is rendered nameless as she is identified only by the fact that she wears hijab.
- Violence is when certain groups of people live with the constant fear that they are subject to random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property to damage, maim, humiliate or destroy the person. For example, violent ICE raids on undocumented persons. Violence is used to round them up because they are considered criminals when their only crime is that they entered the country without proper documentation. Due to their illegal entry, they remain nameless.
As you can see, any act of diminishing the life of another requires you to diminish your own life.
Questions to ponder: How do you feel about the power of naming? Have you experienced not being named? Have you experienced oppression? How did you name it? How has exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, a culture of silence, cultural imperialism and violence impacted you? Have you perpetrated these things on others?
You get to name who you are and what you have experienced. It takes courage to stand in the fullness of your name and your experiences.
Power In: This rests largely on the power to produce and exchange. Also known as economic power. This is the seat of your personal power. You have value. You have something to offer the world.
The Emotional Intelligence component of independence allows us to cultivate that need to stand on our two feet and be all that we were uniquely designed to be. Often, especially for people of color in the Western hemisphere, oppression relegates us into invisibility in the above ways. However, no matter how much your experiences are diminished by others, they do not go away. They are there, and they need to be named. Taking the time to recognize your experiences and validate them is critical to helping you live out the full value of your life.
Silencing is a form of not giving something a name. For instance, when I practiced law, I literally did not have the internal capacity to face the fact that I was not enjoying the practice of law. I did not have the ability to name it. I ended up having huge physical problems and I entered into clinical depression. I kept thinking I could shake it off. I kept thinking, “If I eat right and exercise and work harder, I will be fine.” It was not until I had an existential crisis that I faced it and named it: I was clinically depressed. I got help and, it took some time, but I got better.
Questions to ponder: How often do you examine your independence? Are you too independent? Are you not independent enough? What internal skills help you name your experiences?
Power With: This is based on such relationships as legitimacy, respect, affection, love, and community. This is how you share your “power in.” This form of power is integrative and creates new life-giving opportunities for everyone involved.
When we take the time to name our experiences, our communities can offer us healing. When I discovered I was suffering from depression, shame overcame me and I felt like a failure. Because I somehow had the belief that I was to be a superwoman and not have any problems, I found it difficult to reach out and tell my family and friends.
I have come to find out that what we normalize in the media and in our conversations gives us implicit permissions. Therefore, talking about mental health in the media is important. When our leaders show that they are fully human and experience the full range of ups and downs that all of us experience, we then feel permission to name our experiences.
In Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” a popular play, she mentions the word “vagina” over 100 times. At first, this play got a lot of negative press. The play addresses all forms of sexuality that affects women, including body image, female genital mutilation, baby making, sex work, and rape of women during war by soldiers. The focus of the play was to raise money to stop violence against women and helped demystify the “name” of this body part unique to the female body.
Naming our collective experiences gives agency to the issue and the people it affects.
Questions to ponder: Whose naming do you listen to? What new naming have you allowed into your experience in recent times? What would you like support in naming that you have not named? Do you listen to naming from a variety of sources? How can you expand your naming experiences?
Power Over: This is destructive in nature and is applied particularly to political life. This is threat power. There is no role for this in our personal lives and in our relationships. This is power is most effective in structures and not over people.
We all know that there is silencing and oppression going on when it comes to naming. We know that we live in a world that does not want to acknowledge the humanity of refugees and undocumented immigrants. We know women have been silenced and unnamed. We know that the experiences of people of color in this country are discounted. We know that the police use violence against black and brown bodies far more than against white bodies.
These are all naming experiences.
Here is a whopper: This issue of fake news? It is a way to silence. Fake news silences the naming that is going on. It gives a different story that minimizes and diminishes the voices of those asking for humane treatment. It distracts, and it allows naming to fade into obscurity.
Non-naming is used to control the stories in the media. I am so reminded of this quote by Chinua Achebe, a famous Nigerian writer: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Questions to ponder: Which lions are in your orbits? Are you listening to their stories? Which group of people do you not like? Who is demonized in the media you listen to? Have you ever thought of their story? How can you get more educated about their concerns?
Reorientation – Who Are We Now?
Beloved reader, how might you expand the power of naming in your life to create inclusion in your orbit? Who is being exploited? Who is on the margins? Who is unfairly targeted by violence? Who holds power? Who is powerless? Who is silenced? Whose culture rules and reigns?
Below are some ways you can leverage the power of naming in your life.
Feminism names the oppression women have faced. However, feminism is not just for women. Men ought to be feminists as well. Everyone benefits when the role of women improves in a society. However, it is time to also explore the oppression against the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, Christianity has shaped so much of how we process these issues. Condemning people as “sinners” and relegating them to a living hell is another form of silencing.
Making the decision to condemn people based on what is socially acceptable or not is a form of silencing and is an act of violence.
In our leadership roles, we use naming against women. Here is a chart by Harvard Business Review that shows the different words used to describe the difference between men and women leaders.
Questions to ponder: How do you speak of men and is it different from how you speak of women? How might our communities of faith contribute to naming? How might be introduce naming into our communities of faith? What issues face women that we try and resist? What names do you use for transgendered or gender fluid people? Does your naming distance or draw close?
Race and Culture:
When it comes to race and culture, there is a lot of silencing and violence in this country. Especially in the media, we have recently seen young white shooters who are killing kids in schools, being described as troubled. Whereas, when black kids do anything, they are called “thugs.”
Questions to ponder: How do you name people of other cultures and races? What derogatory names have you assigned to others? What derogatory names do you allow in your orbit by your acquiescence?
The Poor Among Us:
There is so much stigma against the poor in this capitalistic culture. It is a shameful thing to be poor. Many equate laziness with poverty. Not true. Poverty is created by a system of exploitation.
Questions to Ponder: How do we begin to name the exploitation against the poor so that we can create opportunities in our businesses to alleviate poverty? How might our systems embrace naming so that we dismantle poverty producing institutions?
This week, Beloved, (note: I intentionally name you, my reader, as “Beloved” with a capital “B” because my intention is to speak to that divine part of you that was created in love and for love. That is how I use the power of naming in my business) I ask you to relect on the last three posts on our socialization and pull away from those influences to leverage the power of independence and really study who you are and how you want to show up in the world.
As a leader, how are you naming the issues that you face? My challenge this week is to turn on the switch of naming and pay attention to how you are naming experiences in your life. Are you precise about naming issues or do you just wave them away? Just like the cat in the TS Elliot poem, you get to name stuff deep inside of you. Are you aware of what you have named and what you have not named?
In your relationships, how are you sharing a naming experience? Are you listening to the names that the other person is using? Do you have to control the naming process?
Please take the time to assess the social impact of your naming processes in your communities and organizations.
This week, I ask you to do something you may at first resist. I encourage you to assume, without shame and without judgment that you are an oppressor. I encourage you to look at your world through this lens of oppression and begin to explore how you might begin to lay down oppression as a tool.
For example, road rage is a form of oppression.
We live in a world that has taught us to be oppressive is to be successful. Discover where this is true for you. And then intentionally begin to change it.
Really noodle with power this week: Where is powerlessness showing up for you? Do you respond by magnifying power and turning it into force just so you can feel powerful? How can you be more independent of the organizations and systems you rely on to really hear and see what is going on with naming in your orbit?
Spend this next week intentionally naming experiences in a different way than you have been naming them or that your community names them.
A wonderful resource is Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel. In this book, Walker names the atrocities and horrors of war. It is quite an art form.
As you journey on this pilgrimage, my hope, invitation, and desire for you, dear reader, is that you will become more present to the powerful guide that your naming has on your life.
If this has been helpful to you, please share this and tell others about your pilgrimage. Hit reply and let me know your thoughts.
More amazing hugs on the pilgrimage!