My parents gave me a really contemporary name: Jodie. For a long time growing up, I thought it meant “see Judith.” That is what it said under my name’s listing in the baby names book.
To many of the places I’ve travelled over the years, my name has been something I’ve had to repeat, explain, and even spell, my finger tracing the J-O-D… onto an imaginary piece of paper in the air.
In France, I could say Jodie, like Jodie Foster. In Mexico, I was told that my name sounded like a Spanish bad word.
I was just recently in Gulu, Northern Uganda for a project I’m working on. Northern Uganda is home to the Acholi people. One day, riding on a motorcycle taxi, the driver asked me my name. When I told him, he was indignant.
“Acholi?” he said. “Your name is Acholi?”
Great, I thought. Now, not only is my name hard to pronounce and remember in most countries, it sounds like an ethnic group here.
For a day or so I tried this out for laughs. Every time I was asked my name, I’d say “Acholi.”
“You’re stubborn,” was the common laughing response.
By the end of the day I was confused. In Canada, I explained, stubbornness is seen as a negative trait. I came to understand that in Acholiland it means mischievous, teasing, and outgoing. So stubbornness can be a good thing. I got called it so many times, I’d like to believe it’s a compliment!
When I think about my heroes, I often think it is stubbornness in a positive sense, in the sense of perseverance , that they had in common. Stop to think about the people who have changed the world. They didn’t always get it right, and they weren’t always polite. In fact, they were often unaccommodating. Surely they all had days of bad moods, some had bad tempers. But all clung steadfastedly to an idea of a better world—they were stubborn about that.
Jim Wallis, an American reverend wrote, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change.” If you get stubborn about the future and stay that way no matter how irrational it may seem, you begin to change the world.
Of course, one can be stubborn about any worldview he or she chooses. Skilled leaders have an infinite ability to convince others to get stubborn about their worldview and to march, protest, vote, even kill in efforts to bring their utopia to fruition.
The obvious comparisons could be made: skilled leaders that history has judged both good and bad were stubborn in their views of the world and able to convince millions to come along.
Each of us contains infinite capacities for good and infinite capacities for bad. If we get stubborn and nudge the pendulum of how the world works a little that way, history will be the judge.
In subtle ways in the day to day, we do our best to create our worlds and live our lives according to a world view and the degree of stubbornness with which we cling to it. So we really ought to put some thought into what our own utopia look like. Otherwise you are at risk to be washed along in a tidal wave of someone else’s utopia.
On the night before I left Uganda, we visited a friend. Lucky outsiders get given an Acholi name by their friends in Northern Uganda. That night I was given mine. Can you guess?