I’m a pretty nice person, overall. I don’t love or hate much with great passion. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, can follow whatever religion they want, and that women should have equal rights. However, there is one word in the English language that drives me absolutely insane:
My students know my cannon is “get this word out of your vocabulary,” and you’ve probably heard this time and again from every writing professor, editor, or colleague you have contacted. It’s true in academics that the word is despised, but why? I’ve already used this word several times in this post. But let me tell you…
I HATE this word.
I’ve hated it for a long time. Years ago, my college professor once asked my class, “When we use the word you, it disrupts our communication by accusing the other person. What do we do when we are accused?”
The class had a variety of options: react, get angry, flee, hide.
The most profound words I ever heard from this professor: “We feel punished. Humanity will do anything to avoid punishment. So what should we do next time we want to accuse?”
The class had no answer.
“Instead of accusing, ask: ‘will this ever happen again?’ If the answer is yes, the relationship is dissolved. If it is no, then communication can be restored.”
Ten years later, these words still impact me, especially when we are tempted to accuse. It starts innocently enough, in good advice disguised as a backhanded slap: “Have you tried … maybe you should …” Though it sounds nice, it’s really not. It’s a projection of what someone thinks YOU should do, and at some deep personal level, we feel punished for not doing that thing. We react, we explode, we flee, we hide.
So among the most powerful words in English: you.
Because even though we may not be aware that it’s a damaging, punishing word, it’s also the best word people can hear:
This use of you means there is hope at the end of this accusatory tunnel. We can change. When we want to offer advice, or even in the heat of the moment when decorum dictates we must ask for an explanation, think about that little word you.
How would the situation change, if only a moment is spared to use the word I instead?
How would our lives improve if we took responsibility for our actions and offered our experiences, all by using the infamous first-person pronoun? We can soften the blow, we can help others, and we can provide support they need, without administering punishment.
I still hate this word, but now I know how to use it. I can only hope the same for some of… well, nevermind.