What if protestors had to wear nametags just like the police officers?

One of my core arguments for why everyone should wear nametags is, dishonest and uncivil behavior becomes more difficult to do.

With nametags, we give others the gift of security by letting them know who they’re dealing with. There’s nothing to hide behind. Our identity is always verified.

There’s a social construct that forces us to sign our work and take a stand for our identity. There is no temptation to act from a position of anonymity.

And this isn’t just conjecture based on my twenty years of wearing one every day.

Nametags have been clinically proven to make people more consistently accountable.

Zombardo, the renowned social psychologist, conducted the premiere study on this principle. In the seventies, he wanted to see how physical anonymity lessened inhibitions. The experiment asked the women to dress in white coats and hoods. They were then asked to give electric shocks to unknown patients.

The thing is, the shocks weren’t even real. But the fake nurses didn’t know that. What’s amazing is, only half of the nurses were given nametags for their lab coats. And the ones who didn’t wear nametags actually held the shock button twice as long as the ones who did.

Funny how human behavior changes when people are allowed to hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

Maybe nametags are more powerful than we give them credit for.

Now, this interpersonal pattern plays out in numerous fields beyond the medical world. Law enforcement is one that’s been examined more recently. With countless news stories on the ongoing trend of police brutality, nametags have quite literally come under fire.

Many cops have ignored the police uniform standards requiring officers to display their nametags on their outermost garments, as anti racism protesting has increased in the past several years.

Buffalo’s police commissioner, concerned with the force’s safety following an uptick in online harassment of its officers, just stopped requiring his cops to display nametags on their uniforms. The policy was altered after more than a dozen police officers were doxed, which is new term for when people publicly share personal information of unsavory actors and their families online.

In response to the order, some officers started displaying their badge numbers on black tape affixed over their nametags instead.

Portland’s police bureau issued a similar order. Officers that were assigned to protests started wearing helmets with three digit numbers prominently stenciled onto them. According to local news reports, the bureau will also begin sewing last names of officers into their uniforms, which will replace their small and hard to read metal nametags.

Wow, talk about a sticky subject. Who knew nametags could be so controversial?

My opinion, as someone who has almost certainly done more field research on the topic than anyone in history, has several aspects.

The first one is interpersonally.

Police reform advocates have the right to decry the new policy to disallow officers to wear nametags. In the name of transparency, I believe the more nametags we wear, the better people ultimately behave. Think of the nametag as a microstructure put into place to limit ourselves to only practicing honorable action. It’s not perfect,  but it’s better than anonymity.

The next point is aesthetic.

This is going to sound kind of ridiculous, but it’s actually meaningful.

All nametags should be visible from ten feet away. Not unlike a price tag in a retail store, identifying someone whose job is to protect and serve and care for the public should be a fast and easy process within the reasonable sphere of social distance. Look, if people are going to engage in a dark and chaotic moment like a protest, then all the more reason to wear the nametag properly. Don’t make others work to see your name.

The final point is one that I haven’t heard anyone address yet.

In regards to public demonstrations, the protesters seem to be angry that cops aren’t identifying themselves. My recommendation is:

Why don’t the protestors wear nametags? If accountability and transparency are so damn important, then why don’t the people holding signs and screaming slogans take some ownership and identify themselves as well? Maybe they should put their money where their moniker is.

Remember, communication is a two way street. We can’t demand that police officers wear nametags if we’re not willing to put our own identities on the line too.

This isn’t the internet where anybody with a wifi connection can cower behind their cloak of anonymity and spit vitriol all day long with zero consequence.

When you’re out on the streets exercising your right to freedom of assembly, some sense of social reciprocity is needed.

That’s one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom. Naming is an essential act of human communication. It’s a distinctly human activity.

Sure, labels can be toxic in many situations, but in the case of letting other people know who they’re dealing with, they’re good things.

Take it from someone who has been wearing a label every day for over half his life.

Nametags have made me more honest, better behaved and more accountable to my fellow man.

My career as a bank robber may be bankrupt, but my character isn’t.

Say your own name.

When was the last time you put your identity on the line?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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