• Dr. Kim Stephens

Don't call me that!

Man who is upset.

I insulted a good friend the other day, and I didn’t even realize it until he pointed it out to me. I’m thankful he did, and he was quick to say he knew it wasn’t intentional. But, nevertheless, I was extremely bothered that something I said caused someone else to feel uncomfortable and even upset.

What did I say? I called him “Bud” during a conference call with a client. If you are thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s not an offensive word,” then you are missing the point. The word itself may seem innocuous, and I definitely did not have a malicious intent. I use this word many times a day when I am talking to my boys – calling them “Buddy.” I can even trace my use of the word back to the day my older son (at two-years old) asked me to stop calling him “Baby.” So, using “Buddy” instead was my way of self-correcting mid-word and still expressing love for my boys. Again, this is totally outside the point – the word to me is endearing. But for me to linger, even for a minute, on my own association with the word is defensive. I am totally being egocentric if I try to project my meaning on my friend.

My friend has a different meaning of the word. He thinks of it as demeaning, condescending and doesn’t like the word to be used in a social or a business environment. He doesn’t like it, so if I am a good friend, I need to respect his viewpoint and not call him “Bud” or “Buddy.” And I never will again.

I appreciate now my friend telling me – it shows he values our friendship. A relationship is difficult, or daresay, impossible when we continually push the other’s negative button all day.

But when he first said it to me, I went through a series of emotions and thoughts: “Surely he is kidding,” “I didn’t mean to offend,” “What could possibly be offensive about Bud,” and “Wow, he is being sensitive.” I’m embarrassed to say I thought these things. It was all my ego trying to save face in my own eyes. I was defensive, so I was trying to deflect the anger of someone daring to correct me.

Now, as I step back, I have to realize the obvious: I would have never known using “Bud” would offend anyone, if my friend hadn’t told me. I may have continued to use it with him, each time eroding his connection with me because of something I didn’t know. But now I know, and if I am a respectful person, I will stop calling him that.

To help with understanding, I will cite two other examples. I have a friend named Angela. She hates being called “Angie.” I know this because she has told me, and I will never call her “Angie.” I do call her “Ang,” but she has given me permission to call her that. She knows I use it out of a familiarity I feel in our forged friendship. And I cringe myself when I hear someone call her “Angie” because I know it makes her angry.

And for an extreme example, you can look to the South. Not too long ago, White men would often call Black men “Boy.” Boy itself is not an offensive word, but the context gives it a different meaning – a demeaning one used to belittle and put a Black man “in his place.” And if you call a Black male a “boy,” you had better be ready for some harsh words and/or a fight. (Unfortunately, we still hear the word used in this context today, but generally the acceptance of the word is this context is no longer tolerated by most Americans.)

So, perhaps I took it a little harder than most when my friend pointed out his dislike for “Bud.” I had a brief glimpse into the world of feeling shamed. I felt defensive. I rationalized. I was angry and upset. I felt challenged. And, then I stepped back to try to understand and make a change. It isn’t about me. It is about understanding him and his perspective. I need to step outside myself and my loud ego and meet him where he is. All the other stuff in my head is noise. I never want to say anything to hurt him or make him angry. But, I did. So, I will course correct because I value my friendship with him.

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