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“I’m Terrible With Names”

October 30, 2013

“…I’m great with faces, though.”

This is one of my pet peeves. It’s a lame face-saving (no pun intended) measure that has the opposite effect.

Ostensibly it’s a way of saying “I don’t remember your name because I suck, not because you do.” In actuality it is a way of surrendering responsibility, the way kids will come (through repeated emotional trauma) to use “I’m bad at math” as an excuse to avoid learning it.

The thing that bothers me the most about self-put downs like this is that they are entirely destructive. It’s not as if your self depracation actually benefits somebody else at your expense. It doesn’t make other people feel better about themselves, any more than it would cheer them up to watch you disfigure yourself with a scalpel. There is nothing generous or redeeming about it. It isn’t self-serving, and it isn’t other-serving either.

And then hearing the thing about faces makes me cringe all over again. It’s like cutting yourself and then putting salt in the wound. A self-neg followed by a self-ego boo. Lame to the infinity power.

News flash: EVERYONE is good with faces. We have an entire neurophysiological module in our brain dedicated to facial recognition, for Pete’s sake. It’s like saying “I’m good with language.” Who isn’t? Practically all of us are fluent in our native language by age 3.

Instead of trying to sew your nose back on, how about just not cutting it off in the first place?

And if you really do think you are “terrible with names”, I have a question for you. Do you care? Would you like to get better?

Clue number 1: Negative self talk is self reinforcing. So stop telling yourself you’re bad with names.

Clue number 2: Learn how memory works and you can use it more effectively. Memory is powered by attention (among other things). So, if you want to remember names, pay attention to them. Really. Pay. Attention.

If you forget (or misremember) someone’s name, there is no need to excuse yourself, and nothing to apologize for. If you have to ask someone their name, apply the first rule about asking awkward questions (don’t be awkward). If someone reminds or corrects you about their name, don’t scrunch up your face like you’ve just been harpooned through the gut: just say “thank you” and act like it’s not a big deal, because it isn’t.

Most of the time we are perfectly willing to let other people off the hook; if only we were so compassionate with ourselves.

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