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Dangerous Use of Pronouns

by Marc Gustafson

December 26, 2013

I sit in a lot of meetings - law firm meetings, nonprofit meetings, board meetings, government meetings - and lately, I have noticed a dangerous trend: The use of the pronoun “we." Ok, maybe it’s not so much a trend as it is something I have grown more aware of as my own plate becomes fuller and the demands on my time increase.

Who is this ‘we?’

Invariably, at a meeting, someone suggests “we” look into something. Or commands that “we” do something about a problem facing our organization. “We” need to raise more money. Or “we” need to spend less money.

Despite a room full of accomplished, educated, motivated and committed people, this “we” by and large turns out not to actually be “we” or “me” (which I consider to be generally included within “we”), but rather, “you." And that “you” is almost certainly the under-paid, under-appreciated and already over-committed staff of the nonprofit or organization.

Pointing this out has become my own personal mission. In a room of 30 or 40 people, it may be easy to throw out an idea for "we" to execute, but at Charlotte Viewpoint, with our board of nine and our part-time editorial staff, there is little room to hide behind this loosely defined “we.”

During one Viewpoint board meeting, I stated that “we” existed only in the room in which we were meeting, and that if someone was going to use that word in assigning a task, then "we" would assume he or she was referring to himself/herself unless he/she specifically named someone else in the room who would assume the responsibility. 

At Charlotte Viewpoint, “we” has become “I.” Not as in "me," Marc,  but rather each individual member of the board. Tara Keener has stepped in and assumed leadership of our board from Eric Davis, who served our board so dutifully for so many years. Corrinne Grimaldi jumped at the opportunity to launch our new Charlotte Viewpoint Conversations series and hasn’t slowed down since (and doesn’t seem to be slowing down into the new year). Jay Reitzes' discipline has strengthened our financial condition and allowed us to make the shift Tara will announce in her coming piece. Jenny Matz and Jason Fararooei saw an opportunity with our Salon Series at the McColl Center and put on one of the most honest discussions of the arts in Charlotte I have experienced. Ranise Gillespie, in addition to providing incredibly timely insight, has organized our sponsorship solicitation program in a way that would make Proctor & Gamble proud. Anthony Bolton raised enough money during our Instant Art event to fund our operations and to breathe new life into our board and our organization. And we are all looking forward to what Allen West has in store for our next Salon.

"We" have responded, and I am excited where that will take us.

And then there's you. "You," our readers, our contributors, our supporters and our champions. You help create and shape the narrative. You attend our salons, our Instant Art Collection events and our Conversations. You embody our developing city, the spirit of our citizenry and the ambition that defines Charlotte. You ask the questions that need to be asked and open yourself by proposing answers. We value your viewpoint.

At the same time, the increased use of another pronoun also gives me pause: "They." The word itself seems plain enough, but when spoken in code or with condescension or with a fairly transparent goal of demarking some perceived difference, the proliferation of the use of “they” concerns me.

We have all heard it in conversation, on television or through social media: if “they” would just take more responsibility for their own actions; “they” caused this; or “they” need to figure this out. I cringe when I hear this and have spent some time thinking about who, in fact, “they” refers to, and I have come to the conclusion that just as the term “we” includes “me,” “they” includes “you.”  And depending on perspective, “they” actually includes “we"  (I’ll give that one a second to sink in).

Aren’t “they” the people who allow our world to operate? We certainly can’t accomplish that all by ourselves. Don’t “they” have mortgages, rent, car payments, cable and utilities to pay? Don’t “they” have good days and bad? Happy times and sad? Don’t they also have moms and dads, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors? Aren’t “they” the ones that allow us to eat out and the ones who watch our children during the day and often late into the night? Don’t “they” have names and exhibit more ways they are alike us than they are different?

As I reflect on a passing year, and a passing recession that has drug on far longer than anyone could have ever anticipated, I try to remind myself of all of the above and the power of collective effort, determination and goodwill. I end most days thinking that the world will be a better place, because we (read, "you and me") will make it so.

And our promise to you will to always bring you the best content, commentary and conversation about arts and culture in this place we call home. We will work to be engaging and innovative. In return, we ask that you challenge us, inspire us and dare us to do more, that you participate by reading our articles and sharing them when you agree, disagree or just want to be heard and that you act by supporting arts and culture in our community.

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Tags: Marc Gustafson, charlotte viewpoint, charlotte, pronouns

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