The royal we?

Oct 13 2009 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

Perhaps, like me, you have noticed an increase in the use of 'WE' in our language over the past number of years. If so, have you also noticed how the context of the word has changed from one which used to presume inclusion, but which now implies exclusion?

Both in the written and spoken word, I have now decided to take an exception to the use of WE, other than what it was originally designed for.

So, for example, when my wife tells me that at the weekend that 'WE' are going to clean the car or clear the garden, I now incur her displeasure by correcting her that what she really means to say is "I will clean the car", or "I will clear the garden".

All of which is fine with me, because I don't mind doing either task. However, I do object to the implication that we are going to do this collectively and collaboratively, when I know only too well that she doesn't mean US; she means ME.

So how and why did this simple transition take place and what are its implications on the behaviour of people at work ?

I believe, (and this is not something I can corroborate) that this transition is a direct result of a significant sociological change in people's behaviour over the past 50 - 60 years; in other words, since the end of the second World War.

Since then, not only has speaking plainly and directly become distinctly unfashionable, it has, horror of horrors, become a key component of political incorrectness and impropriety.

I'm not asking you to swing to the extreme end of the pendulum and adopt words and language which might be construed as undiplomatic or perhaps even rude. However, there are times when directness and plain speaking are required; and other times when a little bit of diplomacy and sensitivity will suffice. The challenge seems to be able to understand the differences between both approaches and the effect they may have; and this is where you and I, not WE, can make the difference.

However it is up to you and I to do so through our actions and deeds, and not just to postulate a principal of intention to the greater WE. After all, should I culminate this column by asking that WE all do something about this, then those of you foolish enough or sufficiently enlightened to read this article, will just dismiss it out of hand.

The reason for this is that by suggesting that this something WE can influence and affect, I'm doing nothing to gain your backing or commitment; and I really do want your backing and commitment. So in this context, WE has become what I intended it to be; an excuse for you to nod your head in agreement with me and do absolutely nothing. A great idea, but with no call to action.

By appealing to you directly, I'm in danger of isolating most of you and perhaps even angering some; and if that ends up being the case, then I'm OK with that. But if not, then you just might want to make a note, take action and see where it gets you.

I've taken the direct route in both my writing and speaking for 20 years now and it doesn't seem to have damaged me irreparably. But then, I'm at the far end of the scale of directness and I've had to learn the subtler, gentler and more sensitive art of diplomacy in my development.

However, my World of relative variations of black and white seems to have attracted more opposites than repelled them, as more and more people seek to find their own balance between what they saw and heard and what they believe that they saw and heard.

Well, I'm off now to do my bit to save mankind from itself; how about you ?