I had a great breakfast conversation at the weekend with Chris Corrigan. He recalled a group meeting with a wise elder in Hawaii where one of the participants asked the wise one (and I’m paraphrasing) “How can we embody more of the feminine wisdom in our group.”
The wise man stared for a while and then said “Who is this we?” and basically challenged the participant to make “I” statements and ask “I” questions, instead of trying to speak on behalf of the group. As Chris tells the story, the participant hesitantly complied, and had to speak from a smaller and more vulnerable place when he asked “What can I do…” etc.
I’m guessing you’ve been there yourself sometime, observing this kind of “we” language and perhaps indulging in it yourself. I know I have. It has the seductive quality of making us sound more powerful but in many ways makes us less so because we become disconnected from our own experience.
Chris and I also talked about times were the shift in the other direction can be empowering too. In some contexts, the shift from “I” to “we” language can indicate a willingness to work together, to negotiate within relationship. As I indicated in my last post, there are pitfalls in hoping for precise control with words.
Chris came up with some handy jargon which I’ve been reflecting on. When we say “we” but aren’t really connected to the others for whom we claim to speak, that’s a dissociative we. And if it comes with the tone that suggests connection and sensitivity, we could call the associative we. So we’ve got more than the Royal We now.
Returning to Hawaii, the elder did then offer the participant one piece of advice that was archetypically blunt and riddlesome. He said: “Hum.”
That made me laugh, but then I got to thinking about its wisdom. Hmmm is potentially a response that says, I’m thinking about what you said, and how I’m responding to it. It recognises that there is a boundary that separates us but it is permeable not solid. That’s where we get to play with what’s I and what’s We.