Insert name

by Mark Sherman
November 24, 2010 02:01 PM | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A friend recently shared with us a condolence note that she saw posted on Facebook. It was a beautiful note -- for the first two sentences anyway. They read, “Throughout your early years, I know how close you and your sister were. And I know that your bond has grown even stronger over your adult years.”

But then came the third sentence, and suddenly the note lost its special quality: “Sisters are unique, and (insert name) certainly showed this in how much she loved you, how much she enjoyed sharing time with you, and how much she valued your friendship.”

Insert name?

Obviously, the writer of this beautiful, heartfelt note had gone to a website which gave you examples of condolence notes and sent one of them…unfortunately forgetting to replace “insert name” with the name of the deceased.

Is that what we have come to at this point in our history? Are people so busy that they don’t have time to write their own condolence notes? Wouldn’t just a simple, “Hey, sorry your sister’s gone. Bummer!” be a lot better than this canned “stronger bond” and “sharing time” stuff, which, half the time doesn’t reflect the complexity of relationships anyhow?

Of course, where have I been? If you Google “insert name,” you get more than three million hits. And, when you think about it, just the phrase “insert name” shows us how truly unimportant we are. In a world of close to seven billion people, just how big a deal can any one of us be?

We should start preparing our children early for the “insert name” world. For example, instead of them learning through repetition that when they sing the “Happy Birthday” song to a friend, the friend’s name goes in the line “Happy birthday, dear ----,” they should be told early on that the song goes “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear (insert name), Happy Birthday to you!” (Of course, it could be a little embarrassing when your child actually sings “Insert name,” rather than the birthday boy or girl’s actual name.)

Another problem with the whole I.N. culture is that sometimes the wrong name is inserted. The day after our friend told us of that condolence note she’d seen on Facebook, my wife got a form letter in the mail thanking her for a memorial contribution (involving an altogether different deceasee), with the amount of money she had contributed -- for tax purposes. The only problem was that while the envelope was addressed correctly, the note itself was addressed to someone else, and included the amount he’d sent.

That probably means he got the note meant for my wife.

Now one of them can see how cheap the other one was, since the two gifts differed significantly in value.

All I can say is, “Insert this!”

I think one of the main culprits here, as it is so often, is modern technology, which was supposed to cut down on our work and relieve our stress, but has pretty much done the opposite. And it allows for totally artificial sincerity (although the sender of that condolence post likely had genuine feelings for those sisters). Companies can send form letters to people with their first name on it, as if it’s a personal letter. But it’s the same letter being sent to thousands, perhaps millions, of people. And smart companies can always add phrases which make us really believe it’s for us. So one day a guy named Fyodore gets a note that starts out, “Dear Fyodore, We know that men like you -- perceptive, sharp, generous of spirit, and blessed with good looks -- want something more out of life.” It can then go on to offer anything, and Fyodore will be interested.

But note how much less appealing such a letter would be if it said “Dear (insert name), We know that men like you…”

Of course, what the whole “Insert name” phenomenon shows us is that, in reality, we are not all that different, something that fortune-tellers, for example, have known for a long time. People come back from having their fortunes told and say, “It was amazing. She really understood me. She said I appeared to be happy on the surface, but I had some issues. And she understood that things were not always perfect with me and my family, but that if I worked on all of this I could see some improvement. The woman was incredible! It’s like she had known me for years.”

Obviously, when people go to fortune-telling school, they learn to say things like “I see an interesting future for you, (insert name). Yes, (insert name), exciting things may happen in your life. But listen, (insert name), if you want the full fortune-telling experience, my total fee is $150.”

In psychotherapy school, future therapists may learn this kind of thing, too. And I imagine it’s probably the same thing with students in veterinary school who are learning to comfort animals. The only difference is that they’ll be inserting names like Buster, Princess, Fluffy, and Whiskers.

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