Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The problem with you is the problem with him and her. And them, too.

I recently rediscovered a valuable lesson in my mental attic that begs to see the light of day once again.
I have big trouble with pronouns.
My Zen teacher at the time pointed this out to me last year.
Whenever we spoke in dokusan, a formal, private, one-on-one interview to check my understanding (or lack of it), she would stop me before I could get more than a few words out of my mouth.
Every time I answered her questions about why I felt a certain way or what I thought was motivating me, I would use the pronouns "you" (in the generic sense) or "we," when I really should have been saying "I."
It would go something like this:

Sensei: Michael, what do you think it means to express compassion?
Me: Well, when you act ...
Sensei: You mean, "When I act ... "
Me: Yes, when I act ...

What she was trying to get me to learn is that taking responsibility for my actions begins with using the right pronouns to reflect MY behaviors, observations and motivations, not yours or anybody else's.
Her point was that when I use generic terms to refer to things associated with myself, I separate myself from my actions, and the cycle of dualistic thinking continues unbroken and with all the consequences associated with it. In other words, it's a subconscious way of foisting responsibility for my actions on someone or something else through subtle disassociation.
Thus, I need to speak for myself, and from my heart, when I'm talking about me.
Just semantics? Maybe.
I know that in conversation, I use the generic "you" all the time. It's simply a matter of convenience.
But I'm trying to catch myself when I do this, and to be extra vigilant in my writings, which don't usually require the spontaneity of conversation and allow more time for reflection.
Of course, a primer in pronouns and a change in vocabulary isn't going to stop my dualistic thinking.
But by being more mindful of how I represent myself, I can then begin to see the me in you and the you in me, and how there really is no "I" after all.

23 comments:

LBseahag said...

You can now come work for me. That is how I train staff at my hotels. To say me and I...taking ownership makes people at ease....

Wow! Sometimes it pays to be self centered! hahaha!

Michael said...

Hey LB,

If I can bring my cats (well, two of the three, anyway), you've got a deal!

LBseahag said...

Of course! Two of em look like Meangirl's twin...and the other looks like Jinx!

btw...will you cast your vote in the cat pageant?

and what are your cats' names? you told me, but I forgot...

Danny Boy said...

Hi Michael just stopped by to see how you're doing.

We learned a pronoun song in elementary school haha I don't think that's relevant now though

Michael said...

Hi LB,

I'll be posting my vote momentarily...
My female cats are Sasayaku (whisper) and Tara. The male is Yasashi (gentle).
All three also answer to Pain In the Ass.

LBseahag said...

How cute...they would've won the contest for sure...I like the curled up black/white guy...is that
Yasashi?

Michael said...

Hey Danny,
I'm doing OK, thanks, and thanks for stopping by!

Michael said...

Hey LB,

Yasashi's the one with the the white bib. They thank you for the compliment. They add that they know they're cute.

LBseahag said...

I love cats...

your day can totally suck...

getting yelled at by your boss...
traffic...
smog...
high prices...

and you go home, and they make you forget...
Fur against my skin...
Now that is my zen...

Michael said...

LB,

Your secret is safe with me. :))

Phats said...

Hi Michael my name is Phats and I am an idiot :) haha

LBseahag said...

HAA! Sweet...
Good thing Jinxy is like you...

Michael said...

Hey Phats,

My name is Michael and I am a huge fool!

LBseahag said...

That's why I like you both...

Michael said...

Thank you so much, LB!

Lone Wolf said...

Michael who was your teacher at the time? It's a very interesting and very sublte idea. Thanks for sharing.

g said...

This is an interesting post about pronouns and how they reflect/influence our my your thinking.

Beth said...

michael: i think there is much to be revealed by the words we choose, actually. i remember back in college studying wittgenstein and philosophy of language. of course i have a terrible memory and i'm probably hacking to bits the thoughts of western philosophers--- but what stuck with me was that our language is our world, our reality. our ontology. if we use words like "you" we really do manifest a world in which we create separateness. i think our language is a big part of the delusion of dualistic thinking. i really enjoyed your post about this. it's got me thinking....uh oh.

Michael said...

Thanks for your comments, Lone Wolf, g, Kim!

Lone Wolf, I'd rather not name my teacher for a couple of reasons. First, I haven't been a part of that sangha since spring 2004. Second, I wouldn't want to disclose anyone's name in my blog without their express consent.
I suppose I could call and ask my former teacher (a lovely person) if it would be OK, but I suspect I would be told that it's not the name of the teacher, but the lesson shared, that's most important.
In any event, I thank you for reading!

Lone Wolf said...

I understand Michael.

greenbean said...

Great post Mike! Dualistic Thinking is our sensory world of perception.To get non-dualistic is satoric! Deep Bows.

passion said...

I had thought I am the only one who still confuse people because I don't know how to use I, we, you, they properly! One example I remember is that, recently I replied to a post on a forum and conveyed my general view on the subject. The next minute the author got somewhat defensive as I used the word "you" a lot and he thought I was pointing my fingers at him while my intention was a general 'you', a global 'you' like we, us!

Communication is confusing, isn't it? ;-)

Michael said...

Hi Passioncity,

Yes, words are quite vexing sometimes. Trite as it may sound, I wish I could move beyond them. But then I wouldn't have much to say... :))