Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pronounce every Pronoun

Last week I attended a Norwich City Council meeting where, during citizen comment, a woman addressed the alderpersons and used the second person pronoun "You", singular and plural, five times in less than two minutes. She wasn't saying 'you are doing a good job' or 'you are working as hard as you can', but trying to separate the folks in the front of the room who are neighbors to someone somewhere else in the room from the rest of the residents. She's not alone and we're not the only place on earth where this happens. We invent an inside so we can place people outside. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. Or not. Coo, coo, cachoo.

We're seeing it at the largest scale possible, because it's a national forum, at the Presidential level, where a week from today we'll choose new leaders and a new philosophy for the next stretch of this road we're all building. By the middle of next Wednesday afternoon, all the rhetoric about calamities and catastrophes if Candidate A rather than B is elected will be past tense and forgotten because that's how we roll in this country, which is as it should be.

I sometimes wonder if here in the region that gave us The Scarlet Letter, we're so slow to forgive one another for anything other than most human of reasons--anger, jealousy, fear. Addressing the Council, she was angry that she was not aware the council had held informational workshops preceding the regular meeting and held each alderman responsible for this lapse. The room had been filled with those of us who read the local newspapers and had seen the articles earlier in the week and thus 'knew' the inside scoop. Someone should note a note to the Literacy Volunteers.

I try very hard to never hold myself responsible for the ignorance of other people but was surprised at how this person had decided on whom to pin the blame. The tenor and tone of her remarks did not improve in the course of her discourse as she grimly worked through all the pronouns, invariably ending up by lumping the aldermen into the dreaded 'them' category.

I've been thinking about the 'them' with whom she was so angry.
I've been part of the them in other aspects of Norwich as some of us have volunteered on behalf of all of us to improve, or try to, an aspect of where we all call home. This time last year I was an alternate member of the Ethics Review Commission with people whom I knew hardly (at best) at all and many of whome were extremely gracious when their luck ran out and we did meet.

Two were on the city council, another was to be elected to that body (where he was demoted from 'us' to 'you' last week, I guess). Two were/are very active throughout the community--one of whom was honored last Friday night. Two work quietly within the political structures of the city and create an environment where we can disagree and not be disagreeable. Another person is just starting a family now as I type (so I should type faster, perhaps), a very brave thing to do in what seems to be somewhat perilous economic times. Another person has been a lifelong patron of the local arts, and another works for the City of Norwich. Still another works with the less fortunate on mental health issues, while another is a man of the cloth who works to improve the material and spiritual worlds in which all of us live and still another organized an outreach to share with neighborhood youngsters the joys of his sport, fishing, at his own expense and with little fanfare. Ordinary us becoming extraordinary them.

And it's the same across our city, and your town, too. When pronouns are used, the only one that means anything in the end is the first person plural because in every them is an us. "Me, and you. God only knows it's not what we would choose to do. Black and Blue. And who knows which is which and who is who. Up and Down. And in the end it's only round and round and round."
-bill kenny

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