My editor asked me to rewrite the piece I was working on, using no personal pronouns. It seemed like an impossible request.
Everything I do has some sort of personal reference. When I get in my car I am thinking about where I want to go. Or, when eating, what will taste good to me. Or, when speaking, whether I will receive accolades from those listening.
I choose radio stations based on whether I like the music, political candidates based on whether I agree with them, or group memberships based on the benefits they bring to me. Me!
These decisions go on silently, often unexamined, and unnoticed below the surface of my consciousness. I only become aware that they exist when someone steps on one of my opinions or inconveniences me.
I finished the exercise successfully – no personal pronouns. It sensitized me to how much the use of personal pronouns, literally and symbolically, affect the quality and outcome of conversations. Letters to the Editor are particularly good examples of this personal monologue. I/me/mine, droning on and on.
A letter to the editor in last Saturday’s newspaper illustrated this.
The writer was outraged that a nearby city got something our city didn’t get. The letter spewed personal pronouns, and it was clear there was no room for a second person, a second opinion, or a second strategy. It assumed that the writer had all the information and no matter how the facts may have contradicted her, her opinion was the only thing that mattered. “What the heck is wrong with all of you?” she asked.
It’s impossible to abandon the first person pronoun, but it is good to cultivate the ability to silence that voice occasionally so that the other/s can share the conversational space within each of us.
It is in those moments that we learn the loveliness of other voices and also undiscovered truths.