Names, Names, Names, !!
What’s in a Name?
Nurturing staff, one member at a time
November 26, 2013—Albert Einstein famously said that, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
There are many of us who simply slog through life each day. Then there are others of us who approach their lives with energy and enthusiasm ready to greet each day as the miracle Einstein proclaimed.
Dosseh Tossou is that kind of person. Every day, he greets hundreds of staffers by name, asking them about their families and remembering tiny details of their personal lives. He bestows a little bit of sunshine to staffers’ days who come for a lunch hour Zumba class or perhaps a run on the treadmill at the Main Complex Fitness Center in Washington.
“We’re not isolated beings. We live through people, and they live through us,” Tossou says. “Life is contact. Life is dynamic. The most powerful thing in this contact is the name.”
Growing up in Togo, calling someone by their name was a sign of respect that was instilled in the young Dosseh at an early age by his parents, and a lesson that he’s never forgotten.
“Working with people here, it’s very important. Colleagues you work with, or one of the vendors, there are people from all different walks of life,” Tossou says. “You cannot even image what magic it can do. If you say their name, it’s very powerful.”
Dosseh studied to be a teacher and began working on education projects for the Christian Children’s Fund in 1983. He came to the US in 1993 because of political turmoil in Togo. “There was a lot of unrest,” he says. “The country was not safe.”
Tossou got his first US job across the street at the IMF records department pulling files. He then joined the World Bank Group as a security guard in 1996.
Three years later he started at the Fitness Center and hasn’t looked back since.
“Helping people has always been my calling. That’s the reason I accepted this job,” Tossou said. “Fourteen years working with people is something I enjoy, helping them have a break in their day, keep fit and reduce stress.”
Tossou believes that all staff have their role to play to reach the goal of ending poverty.
Tossou believes that modern society has isolated people from the traditional community structures and supports that nurtured individuals and made them happier, healthier people in the past.
“These times are not easy. The world is in a very confused state. We have sophisticated technology, but we are confused. We need soft ways to bring people together and not give way to sadness, bitterness and trauma but to build ourselves up with confidence for the future,” he says.
Tossou believes the Fitness Center not only allows people to take a break from their busy days but also allows them to reconnect with their fellow staffers.
“Big organizations can be very impersonal. People can isolate themselves. Computers and paper, not moving. It’s the survival of the fittest. People need to step up and acknowledge each other,” he says. “I try to put people at ease. I consider them like my family members. We’re all part of this family.”
Tossou says just that simple act of calling gym members by name helps them to open up and share with him. “People tell their personal stories in a twinkle of an eye,” he says.
“I call them by name, and we are family. We are breathing the same air. We are working together,” he says. “My role here is to welcome you home.”
Tossou applauds the president’s renewed emphasis on ending poverty, and believes every single member of the World Bank Group has their part to play in achieving this goal.
“When you cross the threshold of the lobby, see the dream that is there. Life your head and see that dream. We are all here to fight poverty,” Tossou says. “That is a big goal, but we can do it together. We are all part of this same dream.”
Tossou became a Buddhist 25 years ago and says that it has shaped his life in a very deep and profound way. “Buddhism teaches me that I have to be responsible for my own life,” he says. He gets up every morning at 3 a.m. to chant for 45 minutes so he can be on time for work at 6 a.m.
Tossou chats with yoga instructor Steve Abate and and fitness center member Parastoo Oloumi after class.
“We have everything in us to be frustrated or angry. But rather than hurting somebody, we can try to add some value,” he said. “Everything we do, let’s nurture value in each other. We don’t have to follow our negative emotions. But it’s not easy.”
Earlier this year, Tossou faced a massive personal challenge when doctors discovered a tumor in his right sinus. After 4.5 hours of surgery the doctors safely removed the tumor leaving a large scar near his right eye. Happily, the tumor was not malignant, and he was back on the job three weeks later greeting staff at the Fitness Center.
“I get up every day believing this life has to be positive. Let’s get rid of all the poison and nurture all that is positive in us,” he says. “If not, we will achieve nothing.”