Speak in First Person Singular

Posted in Holistic Living.

“Nobody can be exactly like me.  Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.” - Tallulah Bankhead, 40’s Film Star
Are you still in school “daze,” now that all the paraphernalia has been wrestled into a dorm cubicle?  Or now that sending your baby off to kindergarten just tugs at your heartstrings rather than breaks them?  I’ve been beaming healing energy to all of you ~ from preschool to college, students and families.  Such a big transition! 

Of course, underneath it all is more than a little sadness for summer’s passage.  No time for dwelling in grief, though ~ our educational institutions are back in full swing.  It’s time to move forward with learning new ideas and adapting to new situations.  After all, isn’t learning one of the reasons why we’re here in these bodies on planet Earth?  While I hope you learn something valuable reading (and hopefully applying) the ideas that follow, you can release the seasonal association with academics because this column is not exactly an English lesson.  (I think I hear sighs of relief!)  It’s more of a philosophy or sociology one.  (Are those groaning sounds?)

                                        ~ Celebrity Wannabees ~      

During the last two decades, the use of the pronoun “you” seems to have dominated personal communication mostly due, I think, to mainstream popularity of celebrity interviews.  Some famous wealthy entertainer or politician shares their experiences using “you” instead of the “I” they really mean in order to make it easier for Mr. or Ms. “average” viewer/reader to identify with those experiences.  This strategy not only makes the celebrity icon appear more down to earth, it also feeds into the general public’s American dream of achieving such a privileged position.  (Gossip mongers actually talk about the rich and famous as though they were next-door neighbors.)  This manner of speaking seems to generate a certain degree of connection, of inclusivity.     

It may also serve to entertain, bolster egos, convey judgment, garner agreement, preserve privacy, or engender superficiality—perhaps dulling some of the rough edges of daily life.  Are these consequences serving us in a positive way?  Or are they just additional choices to the growing superficial menu of many modern American lifestyles?

                                        ~ I, Me, My, Mine ~

I say it’s time to return to using first person singular pronouns ~ I, me, my, mine ~ when speaking about a personal experience or opinion, rather than choosing to speak as celebrities using the editorial pronoun “you.”

Spanning the three decades that I’ve been mentoring hundreds of clients and aspiring healing facilitators, I’ve noticed this communication style exponentially increasing, both in their written reports and in their verbal presentations.  Now, I’m hearing this “you-phemizing” in many informal social discussions.  And sometimes it is so pervasive that I’m feeling like I’m conversing with politicians, rather than with authentic people whose individual opinions or experiences I’d really like to hear.

The Greek origins of ‘euphemism’ according to my American Heritage Dictionary, translate into ‘speaking with good words.’  “The substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit,” is something I appreciate when sensitivity is called for.   “Where’s the rest room?” is what most of us ask.  However, for intercourse (The first definition is, “Interchange between persons or groups; communication.”  The second definition does not apply to this essay. {I’d hoped for a chuckle, at least.}) I advocate direct and specific terminology where appropriate when sharing about your feelings or opinions.

                                        ~ Hmmmmmmm ~  

Anyway, I’ve continued to observe and ponder this increasing phenomenon of speech enforcing a  “you” perspective.  Why has this become mainstream?   Did the Seinfeld sitcoms about self-absorption hit too many folks too close to home?  Hmmmm, I wonder.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.  For one thing, using the editorial “you” seems to dissociate the speaker from her or his personal reality.  My interpretation of that observation is that it links to an identity issue, a fear of expressing one’s personal feelings and opinions.

For another thing, you-phemizing could be a kind of power game sourced from insecurity (isn’t that usually the origin of power trips?) ~ a way of covertly commanding agreement by proselytizing rather than taking responsibility for one’s own personal truth or individual perspective.  Basically, it’s like laying a trip on someone, only in a very subtle, devious way.

                                       ~ An Identity Thing ~  

Are people afraid to own their point of view?  Reluctant to assume responsibility for taking a stand about an issue?  Is this a manifestation of herd mentality?  Let me tell you about processionary caterpillars.  They have been observed to follow each other on the rim of a bowl of water until they die of dehydration.  All it would take is one to break the march, responding to whatever might be the caterpillar equivalent of thirst, and take a drink. Instead, they deny their natural life sustaining needs, hypnotically following each other until death.  In this matter of “you” dominated communication, I think there’s an identity thing going on fostering a herd mentality.   

Besides that, I wonder if you-phemizing engages some kind of power ploy?  Maybe testing the listener to see if he has the integrity to openly agree or disagree?  Hypothetically, for example, a speaker declares about himself, “You just can’t win with women; you try and try to please them and they’re never satisfied with what you do!”

                                          ~ Whining Victim ~  

What’s a listener to do with that kind of rant?  Ignore it, figuring this chap is just wanting to vent?  Does letting it slide imply agreement with a point of view someone else has lain on the listener without his permission?  Or if the listener has had similar feelings, this could be the start of a good pity party.  A juicy wallow in being a poor helpless victim, whining,  “Woe is me.”   

 If the listener has generally attempted and succeeded to cultivate win/win relationships with the opposite sex, would he respond authentically? “That may be your case, pal, but I’ve always gotten lots of appreciation from women I know.  You’re probably not treating them right.”  

Take that original rant and make it authentic.  “She’s been wanting to go to Winterthur for Sunday brunch, so I took her there for her birthday.  All the while we’re there, she’s complaining, ‘there’s too much food!  This could feed an entire third world village.’”  Now that’s communication a listener can get a handle on.  Some meaningful ideas and experiences might actually be exchanged as a result.

Consider another example.  A speaker declares about herself, “You’ve got to have medical insurance nowadays, but the premium payments kill you.”  Well, maybe the listener has medical insurance, but owns her voluntary choice in the matter [unlike the speaker, who feels like a victim].  Or maybe the listener shares the speaker’s victim paradigm, but can comfortably afford the premiums, which can’t kill anybody.  Or maybe the listener chooses to live a healthy lifestyle, and has never carried medical insurance.

                                                  ~ 1 + 1 = 4 ~

A Russian friend of mine shared an aphorism popular in her country.  If two people each have an apple, and they exchange them with each other they still each have only one apple.  However, if they exchange ideas, each person now has two ideas.  Seems to me that sharing communication can be a source of enrichment, fostering personal growth, unless it’s stifled with superficial you-phemizing.  

You are a unique creation.  A one-of-a-kind-package.  The coded directions in your DNA were compiled from those of your mother and father (and their ancestors) at conception.  That first cell was a complete you, your first person singular.  And every cell throughout your body carries this full information about you.  Media reports about DNA testing have called attention to proving disease susceptibility or someone’s guilt or innocence.  However, these codes also link to special gifts, talents, attributes and blessings of your unique body-intellect-personality-character package.  I suggest that expressing Who You Are is an integral component to discovering Who You Are, which in turn leads to appreciating Who You Are.  As long as issues are presented in the metaphorical “you” the “I” source can’t really participate in what I consider the incredible adventure of Self-discovery.

                                   ~ Consideration & Compassion ~

In my courses as well as my work with clients, I facilitate everyone to “tell it like it is”  (with consideration and compassion for others). This leads to personal realizations that inspire truly joyful self-directed personal growth.  Glossing over something unpleasant with a less unpleasant generalization hampers personal growth.  Little by little, individual insights accumulate into a greatly more fulfilling lifestyle.  Choosing not to share authentically time after time closes down more and more parts of your Self.  Children are wide open in their responses before they’re socialized ~ an appropriate process up to a point.

The word eulogize means to “honor one recently deceased.”  You-logizing is another pun that serves as a reminder that too many “you” statements certainly deaden communication.   They totally lack personal passion.  They homogenize vital individuality into an insipid generalized sea of humanity.

Dr. Jane Goodall’s famous observations of African chimps inspired her to write in her autobiography, Reason for Hope, that only humans “have developed a sophisticated language.”  And that we are the only species “…able to teach our young about objects and events not present, to pass on wisdom gleaned from the successes ~ and the mistakes ~ of the past, to make plans for the distant future, to discuss ideas so that they could grow, sometimes out of all recognition, through the combined wisdom of the group.  With language we can ask, as can no other living being, those questions about who we are and why we are here.  And this highly developed intellect means, surely, that we have a responsibility….” too speak our individual experience in a direct way that’s also considerate of others.

And if this is too tall an order for you, I suggest just noticing this phenomenon of you-phemizing and you-logizing.  Encourage (with gentleness and respect) others to notice, too. Make it a game like we used to play on road trips spotting license plates.  Then get back to the best journey of all ~ knowing and growing your Self, while respecting others

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