Speechwriting: Corporate, Weddings, Retirement

11/5/10

Inclusively We? We Are Not. Rejecting 'We' and 'My Tribe' in Modern Language


A recent personal essay I read used the phrase, "we" and went on to decry we who live in the suburbs as being self-absorbed. The author used the pop term of the week 'tribe' to refer to suburbanites.

Caught on this, I cried foul. In reply, the author responded to say he used 'we' so as to include himself. Self-absorption with this overarching, overreaching false-graciousness appeared to be at play.

Still foul. And getting fouler. Why?

Perhaps it was the all-inclusive 'we' I bristle at since it not only includes him, but me. Once I'm involved, what else can I do but presume he did, in fact, suggest I must accept it without question. But I don't. I reject it flat out.

Language is tricky. It includes, excludes, implies, infers and otherwise misleads. Periodically, words mean what they say.

Did the quick brown fox really jump over the lazy dog? And do we care? It depends on how you feel about dogs, foxes, and what counts as fast brown, and lazy, and precisely what defines a jump as opposed to a leap or merely stepping over.

Language is more than language. It is a tool for communication and framing of ideas. Framing means simply the context, style and structure an idea is described.

For example, by using a phrase like "tribe," the author is trying to define a social group. Do that, and generalizations can be made, allowing, then, the provision of 'we,' since he himself considers himself a member of uncaring, selfish suburbanites. This is, of course, an arrogant fallacy, a kind of pop sociology running rampant in some places. The arrogance is in pointing that selfishness at all of us who live in a suburb, presuming all of us are 1) homogeneous enough to be a tribe, and 2) uncaring. Living myself in a multicultural family, surrounded in a multicultural housing area, working hard to be unselfish (with varied levels of success), and relating to some amazingly giving people who live just around the corner, I cannot accept this framing of condemning language. Perfect, no, but, homogeneous and uncaring, no.
Horn Rimmed Clear Lens Glasses

Tribe is a cute word. It is hip in the way skinny jeans, Elvis Costello glasses and goatees are hip. It looks immediately relevant to society, yet is only an impersonation of relevance thanks to its self-awareness to relate. Tribe!


I think of Iroquois and Chippewa, Cherokee and Sioux. They are not only a nation, but an extended, true family. Cousins are cousins. Sure, some may have been unrelated, but these are genetically-related people groups just as they connected culturally.

Users of the term perhaps make no reference to this, but in parlance outside of groups like the Sioux, it often connects indirectly to the idea of a kind of neotribalism, a 2006ish postmodern concept that humankind evolved into pursuit of living in a tribal structure. It does not fit, however, since the term is bandied about as more of an emotive, "I understand you, you are my kin-of-heart," sort of manner.

But back to 'we'. It aches of Ayn Rand's post-apocalyptic novel Anthem about a young man living in a society in which residents have no personal identity. Whenever someone referred to anyone, they would use 'we'. 'Ego' was an unpardonable word, and 'I' simply had no place. The protagonist rebelled, ran from the bondage of that society, and with another, returns to a new kind of Eden. Though Rand herself was an atheist who despised Christianity and its corresponding "love one another" altruism, her perspective strangely finds its way back to Judeo-Christian views. Now, as the new Adam, and new Eve, the heroes ostensibly start a brave, new world. We don't have the new from Rand, but, ideally, it is filled with people who are not proto-archaic.

Have we entered the social Apocalypse without the related nuclear war? Is this the society we are evolving into? An identity-less, convictionless blob of humanity? Next, if not already, individual life and choice matters less.

We are not tribal and we are not melded into we. We are unique, coming from families good or bad. Those differences globally are what will allow us to work together. Instead of billions of similar people, we can be one larger body, each with strengths to match the other's weaknesses.
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