Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I Don't Care for Wearing Name Tags in Meeting

Strange, I know. Wearing name tags in Meeting is one of those Quaker traditions hard to shake- even though it's not particularly traditional as all, as far as my extensive investigations reveal.

It is also a custom so petty that it's questionable why I'm bothered by it at all. But I am. Granted I'm not routinely concerned about it. On a scale of 1-10 of Great Quaker Issues, this rates probably a 2-3, barely beating out the eternal Rug Debate (bare hardwood floors or tasteful area rugs in the meeting house?) and ranking far, far under things like NEYM's relationship to FUM (I am SO not going there today). But occasionally the Name Tag Affair gets to me- like today.

The point of a name tag, of course, is to be friendly towards outsiders, to help everyone get to know each other, and to promote a sense of community. I'm afraid that for me, it doesn't really do any of the above.

I want people to have to ask me my name. I want that initial interaction. If I've forgotten a name that I should know, I want to be humble enough to ask! Conversely, if someone has forgotten my name, I want them to come up to me and ask (or at least ask the person on the bench next to them). More community is formed from these simple social niceties than is ever created by wearing tags.

I don't want the artificial familiarity that name tags create. I don't want someone to come up and call me by name when we have not met- I find this very uncomfortable. I want to be approached and asked for my name. Names, I believe, are a gift, always to be politely asked for and graciously given (or not given, depending on the circumstance!) . Name tags, I feel, make it too easy for us to pretend to know each other.

A practice intended to make visitors feel welcome does, I feel, just the opposite. If I walk into a room and everyone is wearing name tags but me, I feel like I am intruding upon a strange fraternity. It's almost more awkward when I, the visitor to this group, am asked to make one myself. More than once, in fact, I have been approached by a friendly greeter who skips right over introducing herself and asking my name- in favor of asking me to make a name tag! How backwards is that?

In a true community, everyone knows everyone else (more or less) by name. This much is true. But it doesn't make our Quaker meetings any better of a community by faking it! I've noticed that more traditional denominations- the Baptists, the Catholics, the Seventh Day Adventists- would never dream of asking all their congregates to wear name tags. And yet, their sense of community does not seem in suffer. And visitors certainly don't hesitate to come- aren't the Baptists one of the fastest-growing denominations in America?

Perhaps, instead of wearing name tags, we could make a greater effort to reach out to one another. Perhaps, instead of huddling with our particular friends after Meeting (and I'm guilty of this one, too!) we could approach someone we don't know as well. I'd like to see more fellowship in my Meeting, absolutely. In fact, I think that a lack of fellowship a 10/10 on the scale of Great Quaker Issues. I'm just not sure if we're going about it in the right ways (and something tells me that NEYM cutting itself off from FUM isn't the right way to go about it, either . . . but, wait! Not going there!).

5 comments:

Liz Opp said...

So much of what you write here captures my own resistance to wearing a name tag at Quaker meeting.

I also think about how much time is spent in worship-- God already knows who I am, so why wear a name tag during worship?!

The times I wear a name tag (in the large monthly meeting) are when I'm closing worship, when I'm part of an upcoming event, and when I am a part of Ministry & Counsel. I'll put my name tag on after Friends shake hands at the rise of meeting but not before that.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Jeffrey Hipp said...

I found it important to wear a name tag when I worshiped at a big urban friends meeting where 185 or more folks gather for worship every Sunday morning. In my five years there, I found I could remember many faces, but simply could not always keep the associated name attached. This probably says more about the effective size of a healthy spiritual community rather than anything about the value of name tags.

These days, I worship at a smaller meeting nearby, which hosts a humble 40 people at morning worship. We wear no nametags. Instead, everyone goes around and states their name at the rise of meeting. I knew about 90 percent of the regular attenders' names in a few months.

I do find name tags important at Yearly Meeting -- partly due to the sheer number of attenders, but also because knowing the home meeting and town of attenders is valuable, yet doesn't come up in every conversation. Also, there are many Friends whose names I have encountered in writing or anecdote, but have not yet met face to face. Seeing their name tag when they pass me in the dining hall makes that face-to-face connection possible.

Also, I don't mean to be a name tag apologist, BUT...I think different people have different levels of ability to associate and recall names. Name tags might be more useful for some personality types than others. I used to be somewhat challenged in the name-remembering department, but I've also gotten better at it over the years. (This learning disability might be hereditary: my dad routinely forgets the names of people he has known for years!) Some people are simply to shy to ask for someone's name a second time, too.

Rosemary said...

Jeff-

Oh, no worries about being a name tag apologist. I rather like them at Yearly Meeting, too, for the reasons you stated, and especially being able to connect to those only known in writing. I also love being able to sneak a peek at the name tag of someone whose name I SHOULD know, but don't.

Liz- Hmm, I like the idea of putting it on after worship. Maybe that's what I'll do . . .

Hystery said...

My feelings are all kinds of ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I detest name tags. Yuck. So tacky. On the other hand, I can't remember names of people until I know them quite well. Also, I'm extremely shy so I'd pretty much rather die than have to ask someone a second time. I get a panic attack and rush out of the building. So name tags are helpful.

I also resent that people don't know me or my family after months of us attending a meeting and that there are so few opportunities for us to get to know them. Meeting someone over a plate of grapes and dry cake after worship does not a relationship make. Of course there will always be new people who need to be introduced but how long do us "old folks" have to keep encountering other "old folks" who act like they've never seen us before in their lives?

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