Why I hide behind you

I’ve written a fair amount of articles in the “self help” realm. One day, I decided to submit an article to Be Yourself, a popular personal development publication on Medium. Imagine my surprise when the editor wrote back requesting that I make my submission more…personal.

The irony struck me. I was supposedly writing about personal development and self help but I struggled to write about myself.

I’ve been hiding behind “you.”

It’s easier to use the pronoun “you” in my writing because it’s easy to project my values, and much harder to say what I’ve done to warrant giving that advice.

In the world of advice, things are definitely easier said than done.

The same way that a football fan can be an armchair quarterback, I’ve been an armchair advice giver.

R Kelly was once the the biggest R&B star who helped popularize a genre. He’s also been living a double life for the past 17 years, and in February 2019 got charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse.

Observe his language in an interview with Gayle King:

You can start a rumor on a guy like me or a celebrity just like that…. All you have to do is push a button on your phone and say so and so did this to me.

It’s a similar language since 2003, after the first allegations were made against R Kelly:

All of a sudden, you’re, like, the Bin Laden of America. Osama bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I’m going through.

(Please talk about yourself when using ridiculous comparisons, R Kelly).

Isn’t it interesting that when under pressure to reveal himself, R Kelly talks about “you?”

“I” Statements vs “You” Statements

What’s the most subtle way to avoid responsibility? Use the power of numbers.

By shifting the attention away from the individual – me – I can easily hide behind the collective like we, us and yes, you.

Using “I” or “me” forces me to reckon with myself:

If I want to avoid discomfort or responsibility, I’ll create distance between me and the issue, by inserting another entity into the equation.

Unfortunately, distancing works by avoiding responsibility and shifting the blame to others.

Why are you so difficult?
Can you not do that again?
You are such a hypocrite.

Nonviolent Communication proposes a new paradigm: use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to discuss sensitive issues involving other people:

When _____ happens, I feel _____.

Discussing issues from a 1st-person perspective prevents conflict by not blaming someone else and enables true self expression. Because what you feel is never wrong.

According to famed therapist Esther Perel, communicating this way requires vulnerability.

Criticism is often a veiled wish. When I say “You never do the dishes,” what I really mean to say is “I’d love for you to do them more.” But I don’t say that because it makes me vulnerable. If I put myself out there and say, I would really like this, and then you don’t do it, I have to think that you don’t care.

This is why love you sounds more casual than “I love you”, and sorry feels less than I’m sorry.

Taking ownership of the “I” makes me reckon with myself.

Gandhi observed that it’s human nature to want to change others rather than changing ourselves.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

I now understand those words in a different context.

If I want to change the world, then I should change myself…starting with the language I use.

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