Thursday, October 7, 2021

Substitutions

Today I would like to share a gentle reminder of something all of us - me and you - can do to encourage ourselves and others to be more understanding and, perhaps, less judgemental.

Start substituting the word "we" for "they" when you are about to make a statement about someone or some group of people other than yourself.  You can use it to test out how it might sound if you were the subject of what you are trying to say OR you can make what you are saying sound more inclusive and less confrontational.

What if You were They?

"They really don't know what they're doing over there.  They're clueless and they don't care about their clients."

Now, be honest with yourself.  Have you ever thought something like that about some organization, group, governmental agency, team, church, etc etc.?  I bet you have.  I did just a few moments ago, myself.

Now, think about how it feels if I substitute "we" in that sentence:

"We really don't know what we're doing here.  We're clueless and we don't care about our clients."

Now, if that doesn't make you a little uncomfortable - try a different substitution.  Think about some group (a family, organization, club - doesn't matter) that you really care about and that you are a part of.  Or maybe you are a worker who does their best day in and day out for a business or agency.

Pretend you are a "fly on the wall" and you hear someone you know talking about that group or business - and they say "They really don't know what they're doing...they don't care... they're all idiots."  And you know they are referring to YOUR group - and by extension - YOU.

The Anonymous They

When I use the generic "they" to make a negative statement, I am foisting the responsibility off on some "OTHERS", rather than on me or people I might be allied with.  I am implying, whether I mean it or not, potential incompetence, ignorance, or apathy.  I am absolving myself from blame and I imply that there are sides to land on here.

And when we use "they" we rarely picture an individual that we can identify.  Or, if we do, it is some figurehead that we've decided is not human enough to care about because they are merely a symbol of something we don't respect.  We are forgetting that they humans who are just like us.  Humans that could be hurt by what we say or by the things that happen as a result of what we say.

I know people who work in government agencies.  These are good people who do their level best to do their job well and do their job correctly and do their job to serve the public as best as they can.

And, yet, the government is the easiest "they" we've got.  It's so easy to forget that it is made up of people - people like you.  People like me.

I Can Identify with We

If I substitute "we" for they, I am making sure everyone takes some measure of responsibility.  I am hopeful that I remind everyone that we are ALL in this together.  I would like for us all to remember that people who are doctors, nurses, public health officials, CDC statisticians, etc are all people.  People with likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, areas of expertise and areas of... well... no expertise.  We are people that err and succeed.  And WE seldom know with certainty all of the answers... and sometimes not even some of the answers.

"We" is more gentle.  "We" doesn't alienate.  "We" includes me... and you... and reminds us to find ways to work together.

An Effort to Change

There is a post going around showing yearly diagnosed cases for the flu.  The numbers for last Winter are low.  Of course, some people want to claim that this is because "they" decided to count flu cases as covid cases

I typically try not to get involved with these sorts of discussions in social media, but this involved people I think well of and felt I could contribute positively (and kindly).

I started to write:

"In fact, they were often testing for flu, getting a negative, but policy or availability was preventing testing for Covid."

It sounds ok - I guess.  But, it sounded aggressive.  It didn't feel like it moved anything forward, so I tried this:

"In fact, we were often testing for flu, getting a negative, but policy or availability was preventing testing for Covid."

You can take issue with me on content if you wish.  HOWEVER, consider the different feel each of these statements have.

We, as a people.  We, as a community.  We, ended up handling certain stages in the pandemic certain ways.  Some of us disagreed with some of the steps, some of us agreed.  But, in the end, we ALL had a say in how things have gone in each of our groups and communities. 

And when we use the word "we," it encourages us to consider what role each of us in that "we" played and we can consider how some people in that "we" suffered while others were spared.  Some good things happened and some bad things happened - and we had something to do with it.  

It wasn't just "them," it was "us."

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