Richard’s Blog

Know their name

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”.

Dale Carnegie wasn’t wrong when he said these words. As a man who taught thousands in the business world about better interpersonal skills, he knew what he was talking about. If there’s one word that we can pick out of a cacophony of sound, it’s our name. Our ears are uniquely tuned to it; when we hear it, our attention turns to the source.

Today, I returned to school for that first teachers day back and the customary rally-the-troops speech from the head teacher. “I want this to be a school where every student is known individually”, our head said, “and where each student is known by their name”. It was a good speech even with the old clichés!

I reflected on it: do I know the names of all my students? Probably not. But I can afford myself a little flexibility working in one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in London. It has children’s names with some of the most exotic syllables I know and which are somewhat alien to my native tongue.

That said, why should we make the effort to learn and know the names of those we meet?

As a teacher, you quickly learn the power of knowing a name. Referring to someone by name instantaneously connects you with that person. When you refer to someone by their name, especially if you’ve just met them, they feel known by you, and as a result closer to you, even if this is just perceived.

But it goes further than this. Taking the time to learn the most personal (and important) word in a person’s dictionary means you are treating them as an individual, worthy of your attention and time. You are subconsciously placing value on them. And, most likely, they will want to do the same back.

Maybe you work in a big team, or in a school, or you are about to enter an educational setting, and you’ve read this and think to yourself – as so many do – but I’m bad at learning names. The truth is, everyone is but there are things you can to help yourself.

When meeting someone for the first time, say their name three times in your initial conversation. My favourite method is to remember a name by associating it with something familiar – syllables for symbols. Or, finally, write a name down as soon as you can – this gives you a mental picture when trying to remember it next time.

This week let’s be that person who knows everyone by name because everyone we meet matters.

By the way, did you know that God knows you by name? Interesting thought, that!

Why we need more rules

It’s been a day of nerves, joy, and I’m sure in some cases, tears for over 700,000 GCSE students as they discovered what their hard work (or not!) earnt them.

I was delighted to hear my friend’s daughter get the results she wanted. But I’m reminded what it took – sticking to rules though self-discipline: no phone, ample revision, and saying ‘no’ when you want to say ‘yes’ to your friends.

It works. Rules work. I know because I’m a secondary school teacher. I know where a no rule classroom leads to: a special kind of hell!

Head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh of Michaela School, a free school near Wembley, advocates for a stricter, more rules approach. “It’s good to have rules”, she says, “children know where they stand”. Her students are not doing too badly grand-wise, either.

Sadly, you can see the lack of rules play out in children’s lives. In shops, restaurants, holiday parks, or hotels we hear the familiar “No, stop doing that!” from mum and dad but the child just ignores them. Often, rules, and certainly consequences, are not part of our children’s experience. There are only going to be losers in this microcosm of anarchy.

Adults need rules too. After living in this rule and responsibility deprived society, are we once again seeking the reassurance of rules? After all, rules go a long way in helping us order the otherwise chaos of our daily life.

“Since the hippy days, we in the West have fed ourselves on a steady diet of freedom and rights”,[1] says the Jordan Peterson, author of bestselling self-help book 12 Rules for Life. His message of responsibility has taken the internet by storm and he’s now regarded as one of the leading intellectuals of our time.

He believes rules are important, too. And as a clinical psychologist, he’s seen enough hellish and chaotic lives so I’m not going to argue with him. Far from it; I agree with him.

His message is not about rules, but where following rules leads us. The meaning we extract from life is not to be found in our rights, but, instead, in responsibility; “In the care we take with ourselves, our families, and broader society surrounding us”.[2]

I guess the self-discipline it takes to keep any rule has other benefits, too. In keeping a rule – a commitment we make to ourselves – we strengthen our confidence and sense of worth.

So, taking my own advice, I decided to make a rule for myself: to eat my three meals a day at the appropriate time. On school holidays my breakfast, lunch and dinner times go a little wayward. But I’ve pretty much done kept my rule and I feel better for it!  What will your new rule be?



[2] Ibid

You Good Samaritan

The term ‘Good Samaritan’ is part of our vernacular. But I wonder whether I would be one? Or, how about you?

For those of us who may get caught in the no-man’s-land between bystander and Good Samaritan then I have some good news. There has been a study suggesting there are more Good Samaritans out there than we may at first think. It challenges the so-called bystander effect – that people, on average, will not help strangers in distress. Maybe we have it in us, after all. The conclusion was made after studying hundreds of incidents on CCTV of people stepping in to help a perfect stranger in their moment of distress.

The phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has passed into our cultural vocabulary – everyone knows what it means – the person who does not just walk on by when seeing someone in trouble. But where did this term ‘Good Samaritan’ come from?

Actually, from a story Jesus once told.

Jesus is many things to many different people, but he was also a good storyteller. Not to entertain but to educate. In an intriguing encounter, a lawyer approached Jesus. The lawyer knew the central biblical teaching of “love your neighbour as yourself”. But the lawyer wanted to know who his ‘neighbour’ really was. What Jesus then shared is still relevant today:

“In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him”.

Then Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?””[1]

What the modern reader might miss is that the Samaritan was not ethnically or religiously connected to the man who was attacked. And so Jesus helped lift the eyes of the lawyer, raising his sight to see his neighbour was not just the person who lived next door, nor just the people he shared a culture or language with. But his neighbour included anyone he came into contact with.

Interesting thought. How about next time we see that stranger in trouble, we are the ones who go and help.


[1] The Bible, Luke 10:30-34, 36 (NIVUK)

[Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

Identity: where is it safe?

Identity – our personal identity – has become something of a commodity in our digitalised, technology-driven culture. But its increasing availability is alarming.

Just a cursory look at today’s headlines will show concerns over facial recognition being used at King’s Cross, the millions of fingerprints that have been leaked by a security firm, and the recent explosion in people handing over their DNA to companies in exchange for information about their ancestry.

What are the implications?

If information about our identity is in the hands of another then there is a shift in power. We may become powerless – or at least subject to influence – and others may have power over us – after all knowledge is power. But maybe more than that, does this accumulation of personal data not erode the liberty we have enjoyed for so long and the privacy that is inherent in the West’s emphasis on human dignity?

I don’t have all the answers or even the solutions. But I do have something else.

I have a hiding place – a place of safety where my personal information will not be misused.

We have an innate desire for our identity to be protected, or at least respected. There are some things in our life, in our personal histories, that are rightly private. I wouldn’t feel too good if it got into the wrong hands. But for me, I have found a place where my most personal information and identity will be protected.

So where?

Many would argue that the liberty and emphasis on human dignity the West has espoused, has flown organically from a very specific Christian concept about human identity: that we are made in the image of God. You may not believe in this personal God, but this idea led me to my place of safety.

The Christian concept of identity is encouraging for this reason. We are told that Jesus is interested in keeping our identity safe and unique – our personal information hidden away.

“…and your life”, the Scriptures tell us, “has been safely guarded by the Messiah [Jesus] in God”.[1]

And there is a big difference in our identity being in Jesus: he won’t misuse it.

I appreciate this may be of little consequence if you don’t believe in Jesus. But if you find the idea encouraging why not search out this safe place?


[1] The Bible, Colossians 3:3 (ISV)

What does the future hold?

Maybe you’ve been one of the TikTok users who’ve been sharing the viral #Globalwarning videos that show the time-lapse effects of global warming.

From 2019 to 3019, the 15-second video is pretty sobering viewing showing what is to come: no water, over-heating, and choking on plastic! Anna Bogomolova, from Russia, seems to capture the mood well in her video.

But in the here and now, I can hear that summer sound of a British lawnmower and that irresistible summer smell of freshly cut grass. 3019 seems so far away! So what, really, will it be like?

One thousand years ago, in a century that played host to the likes of Macbeth, Edward the Confessor, William the Conquer and his Doomsday book, they would have hardly been able to see what the next millennium would hold for humanity, no less us the next millennium.

So are these videos another example of the new sound-bite, virtue signalling media that passes as authoritative and acceptable to our short-attention-span, sound-bite generation? Maybe! Yes, I agree, we should be aware and warned about our effects on mother earth but reducing the complexity of climate change (or should it be ‘heating’) to a 15-second time-lapse video?! I’m not too sure.

Ok, with little rant over, could there be another outcome by 3019? I hope and believe so.

Some believe in another time-lapse scenario. This time-lapse comes in print and its predictions are a little more hopeful than what’s trending on TikTok. Some say it’s a source to help us see into the future. It’s claims of such a prophetic ability come from the predictions it’s made and gotten right!

The prediction I would like to share illustrates a very opposite outcome. So here’s 15-seconds of something a little more hopeful:

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy”.[1]

Wow! If only. But why the change?

Because “they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God”.

These words are from the famous Middle Eastern prophet, Isaiah. Much of his writings were about a future time of worldwide liberation from the ills we see plague this planet, including global warming, as a result of the intervention of a personal God here on earth.

Now, just because this is a nice thought, it doesn’t make it true. Correct. So why do some believe there is more to his words than Middle Eastern musing? Because he also predicted the first appearance of God, in the form of Jesus.

Maybe this dessert blossoming is worth a second look?


[1] The Bible, Isaiah 35:1-2

[Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash]

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