My name is Dimitri...
It's my first day in the office for 2019 today and I have mixed feelings. I've spent the last four weeks travelling through the Victorian country-side and coastline, driving along the beautiful east coast of Tasmania with my family and then long-hauling it to Athens for two weeks to work with an incredible group of people over there.
Needless to say, I'm a little tired and grateful to be back with the wonderful group of people I share my office with.
Our business is evolving this year and we began this evolution whilst we were on holidays.
Part of this evolution will see Taryn Atkinson from our team in Melbourne, leading an office for us in Brisbane, in Australia's almost-always sunny north. More on this in the weeks to come, but if you're in that part of the world and keen to have us work with you, run a workshop or collaborate, just hit reply and I'll put you in touch with Taryn.
Over the last couple of weeks, having been surrounded by a large group of people who had flown in from all over the world, I was struck by something.
My mind travelled back to the early 90s, being interviewed for entry into a University degree. My would-be lecturer sitting opposite me, flicking through my folio of work and looking up at me, over his reading glasses. He smiled and said, ever-so gently, "Now, don't you have an unusually-long surname."
Needless to say, sitting for any kind of interview is a daunting experience for a teenager, let alone an adult — but there I was, awkwardly laughing off what I later saw as a completely unnecessary reference to my surname.
He continued... "...and Dimitri, that's quite ethnic isn't it?"
Later, as a 30-something I role played this interview in my mind with the benefit of hindsight; and I returned a very different remark to the one I did on that day. In my role play, I replied with "Yes it is you mother fucker." — but in reality, I simply blushed and laughed with him as he laughed at my name, or my folio — I couldn't tell.
Last week whilst working with a wonderful group of people from Singapore, Oxford, Athens, Boston and the Philippines I was struck by something once again.
A young woman from Singapore took the stage for a presentation and thanked the person that came before her — someone named 'Maria'.... but her pronunciation of the word 'Maria' was perfect — a perfect roll of the strong R.
I was struck. This, was the simplest form of respect to someone. To pronounce their name correctly. To honour that their name is their own and not a rendition of your inability to pronounce it correctly. That their name is something to be treated with a simple dignity.
As I met more and more people last week I noticed the same thing — names were pronounced correctly, and when difficulty arose I heard the simplest but most meaningful of questions — "How do I pronounce your name correctly?"
Here in Australia I've experienced all kinds of blatant and also subtle forms of prejudice and racism — I went to school as Dimitri and my then primary school teachers gave me the name Jim because, as they too thought, that Dimitri was too difficult or jarring a name for them to deal with at the time.
I know that most of our days are filled with emails on how to do this, and how to do that — the latest trend on this, and the latest fad on that. This too is important, to know these things. But so are simple dignities and you should never, ever let them slide when they are prejudiced and showcase other people's ignorance of who are you are and where you come from.
To start with, ask someone how to pronounce their name correctly.
See you next week.