We not them

Riley Cornelius

About a year has passed since COVID-19 began and a lot has followed since then. The rise of TikTok, the death of George Floyd, the birth of X Æ A-Xii, the inauguration of Joe Biden, the list could go on and on. 

What do you feel when you read that list of events? Joy? Sadness? Anger? Have you ever felt outraged by something that has happened in our society? Thought how could they steal or hurt another? Now pause, what word did you use? Did you use the word “they?” Using the word “they” is a problem as well. 

What’s the big deal with saying “they?” It’s not like we were involved in the problem, so why should we say “we?” By saying “they,” we disconnect ourselves from the problem, thus making it harder to find the solution. We can’t truly improve our society as a whole if we are not connected to our society.

I get not wanting to use the word “we”. It sounds like you’re a part of the problem and people could misunderstand you. However, using the word “we” does not mean you’re saying you have actively participated in the problem. Using “we” simply states that there is a problem and we need to work on it. Think of it as a friend who is struggling with mental illness or a loss of a family member and you say, “We’ll get through this together.” You’re not the one who was struggling, but now you’re standing in solidarity and you’re helping to facilitate the healing. 

I first became aware of this idea in the first semester sophomore year in Mr. Goldsmith’s Social Issues class and it recently came up again in his Government class. In the original context, we talked about how to lower violence in Chicago, and at the end of the discussion, he said to us, “Did you notice how none of you said, ‘We?’ You all said, ‘They.’” He then went on to explain that, even though we might not live in Chicago, we’re still one society. We should still care what others are going through, even if we do not personally know them.

That experience has stuck with me and will remain with me for the rest of my life.  By saying “we” and more directly involving myself in the problem, and thus the solution, I can and will have a better understanding and perspective. 

I make a conscious effort to always try and use the word “we,” but I’ll admit, I sometimes slip up and say “they.” It can be hard to include yourself in a story you weren’t directly involved with, especially if it be an event that you don’t want to associate yourself with. 

Since I’ve started using the word “we,” though, I feel like my ability to empathize with others has grown immensely. Once you start connecting yourself to others’ problems and treating them like your own, putting on their shoes isn’t so hard anymore. 

  I want anyone reading this to try using the word “we” whenever discussing a problem until the end of the school year: connect yourself. This can be placing yourself into a school, local, national or world event. Say “we”, not “they”. If you’re someone who loves social justice, try making this change for good. We’re one society, so why shouldn’t we talk like it?