Friday, May 13, 2011

The Bob Problem

  by Robert Jevne
   I would like to conduct a little experiment. Let’s pretend we are being introduced to each other. The person doing the introduction might say “Robert this is Bill, Bill this is Robert.” Then I would probably say “Hi Bill. Nice to meet you.” And you (as Bill) would say…Now, if, in your mind, your natural response was to change my name from Robert to Bob please raise your hand. Be honest. Come on. There you go...hmm…yes, its just as I suspected. Approximately 13% of respondants changed my name from Robert to Bob. This mimics real life where it seems that about 1 out of ten people I meet will do the same. Of course that percentage rises under special conditions such as when I am purchasing a used car, or a cell phone plan, or talking to any type of insurance agent. I call it “The Bob Problem.”

    Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I try to make my used cars last and the cell plan is for two years, and I usually need something in the way of a favorable settlement from my insurance agent so I don’t take it personally. Even when my father-in-law, god rest his soul, would start out by saying Bob but change in mid-word to Robert and most of the time ended up calling me Bah-Robert. It was endearing. Sort-of. But there are times when I see a pattern developing with someone I’m going to have to deal with on a regular basis such as at work or even in making a potential new friend and I know I’m going to have to nip it in the bud. And then comes the awkward moment when I have to say I prefer Robert and they feel the need to apologize and then we have to work a little harder to get past it…or not. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of something or some kind of syndrome the name of which is only known in the most arcane annals of psychological theory. It doesn’t matter, I suppose. I know its real and I know I am not alone in being subjected to it. Sometimes I suspect it is akin to male dogs feeling the need to urinate in another dog’s territory but that’s just conjecture on my part.
   And I know that I am part of the problem. I am the one who when he was nineteen and had just separated himself from friends and family, moved to the big city and decided to start introducing himself as Robert. I guess I felt the need for a little more gravitas as I encountered people of much greater sophistication and education than myself, and at six foot three and 135 pounds I needed all the gravitas I could get to keep me from blowing away in a stiff wind. Little did I realize at the time how much gravitas required being grave. Now in my middle age as I fight gravity, and frankly begin to feel the pull of the grave, I’ve begun to reconsider my stance on “the Bob Problem.” Now the name Bob seems more light-hearted, more user-friendly, and, not to be too punny, more buoyant. And who couldn’t use more of that? Let’s just say I’m thinking about it and if you happen to meet me sometime you can try it out. I just can’t promise I’ll recognize myself

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