RULE #7. CONSIDER, “IF NOT ‘YOU’ THEN ‘I’?”   15 comments

When, as in my last post, I advise people to avoid using “you” because it is so blaming, I encourage the use of “I” because it is honest. But just like the pitfalls related to “you,” there are hazards in using “I.”

Consider when I say, “You make me feel so angry.” It’s good to recognize a variant on the thought attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. “No one can make you angry without your cooperation.” It’s more honest to say, “I feel angry when you say/do things like that.”

It’s that basic issue of control again. “I” am the one responding with anger. “I” can decide how to handle my anger. “You” can control what you do. “You” can decide to refrain from such behavior in the future in order to avoid contributing to my angry feeling. Or you can choose to decide that I’m being ridiculous. Or you can realize that what you said/did was appropriate, and maybe there’s some conversation needed between the two of us. Or whatever. The point is, “I” am responsible to myself and “you” are responsible for “you.”

Whenever “I” hold you responsible for my reactions, “I” am not only being dishonest; “I” am ceding my power and control to you.

As a general rule, I prefer the “I” word.

But, of course, there are other things to consider. “I” can be a very selfish word when it attempts to turn the focus of attention on “me” and away from “you.” Consider a few examples. There’s the sympathetic listener whose first response is, “Oh, I know just how you feel.” — No, you don’t!

Or maybe there’s the “sympathetic” response that goes like this. “Let me tell you about my accident/operation/breakup/whatever.” No, I want you to listen to me! I’m hurting and I need someone to hear about me. When you start your “I” comments, you are not showing support for me.

Another example of the undesirable use of “I:” We’ve all experienced it, I’ll bet, like when we have – or overhear – a conversation between two people on a date and one person is doing most of the talking, with lots of “I”s.

So yes, “I” puts the focus on the speaker, with all the aspects of honesty and control mentioned at the beginning. Or “I” puts the focus on the speaker with little concern for the “you” of the other person.

For all these reasons, I developed the practice when teaching a class never to ask “Do you understand?” (potentially blaming) But rather to inquire, “Have I made myself clear?” (acknowledging my responsibility as teacher/lecturer.)

Whew! “I’m” finding it hard to make my point clear. Only “you” know whether I have.


15 responses to “RULE #7. CONSIDER, “IF NOT ‘YOU’ THEN ‘I’?”

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  1. Foggybrain and tiredness. And “I want a hug now.” 🙂

  2. Okay…so…which is the better response to the question “Have I made myself clear?” Multiple choice: 1) Yes, YOU have made yourself clear. 2) No, You have not made yourself clear. 3) Yes, I find it clear. 4) I’m still not clear. 5) I don’t know because only YOU know whether or not you’ve made yourself clear. 6) YOU and I are perfectly clear. Would YOU marry ME if we were single? 😮 Seriously, I like the post and find it useful.

  3. 1It’s hard to stay away from the “I” word in a conversation. I try to not focus on myself too much, but it’s difficult. You’re right about it sounding selfish – using I frequently. I am most conscious of using “I” when I’m writing something. Look how many times I’ve used THAT word in just a few sentences!

  4. This brings to my mind the oft repeated words of Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” It can often be helpful to turn to the teachings of Judaism to find an integration of life as we experience it and the thinking that can bring us together. It seems a constant need for balance when dealing with other people that we seek to make ourselves clear, avoid blame and to be open not only how others may react, but what that awareness teaches us about ourselves.

  5. A+

  6. Have you ever read P.F. Strawson’s Freedom and Resentment? It seems like it would be topical for you.

  7. You did. Thank you

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