Soul to Soul vs. Role to Role

“Once you label me you negate me.” Soren Kierkegaard

All my life I have brought “me” along with whatever I am doing. When teaching English, my students got to see the real me. I shared that part of myself because I didn’t know how to cut it off; it came with the package! I knew that the role of “teacher” was just a label, a function of what I did in the world. As a parent, I have always shown my children who I am; I couldn’t imagine a world where they just saw me as “mother.” And I know they wanted to be seen as individuals beyond the label of “child.”

So, this morning, when the alarm company called to report an alarm going off, I answered the phone as who I am — Tami. I answered the phone as me. I already knew why the alarm was going off; we were testing a new code that obviously didn’t work. But the alarm guy didn’t. He just knew to call based on the information he was given. Our ensuing conversation was comical, though I’m not sure he saw it that way.

He reported the alarm and asked for my name.

“Tami,” I told him.

Silence on the other end.

“Do you have another name?”

“How about Tamara?” I said.

“Yes ma’am. What is your password?”

Now, for the record, we have several locations that have alarms and passwords. Over the years, some have been changed. We go for long periods without having to use them. I personally had not had to give an alarm password in years. Fast forward to the present moment:

“Well, about that password,” I said. “Can you give me a hint? Maybe the first and last letter?”

Not impressed in the least, he repeated, “Ma’am, please state your password.” His tone was firm, no-nonsense.

Frantically I searched my memory’s databank for the code and started shouting out words as if I were on a gameshow.

His patience finally wore out as he said, “Ma’am, I am dispatching the police.”

I blurted out the last possible password I could remember, and he stopped.

“That’s it!” he said enthusiastically. “You’ve got it!” I could hear the smile in his voice.

This time his tone was warmer, more personable. And while he did his job well, he dropped the role of alarm personnel for just one second to meet me on the level of human being.

We play many roles with one another. We collect our roles, those labels that define us, over a lifetime. But when we dare to meet each other from a space of authenticity, a space of allowing others to see who we are, our conversations become richer and more meaningful, if only for brief moments. I believe there is no conflict — we can play our roles and meet soul-to-soul at the same time.

The alarm guy signed off, “Glad everything is okay. My name is Steve if you need anything else.”

Gotcha, Steve. I knew you had a name all along.

I write more stories like this one every few weeks. If you’re interested, you can receive them by email when I publish them by signing up here