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Me, You and Us

1 February 2009 No Comment

Some time ago I read ‘In Perfect Timing’, the autobiography of Peter Caddy, one of the founders of the Findhorn Community in Scotland (if you get a chance to visit I highly recommend this place). In 1945 he was stationed in Burma and he describes a trip from Rangoon to Puri, on the Bay of Bengal, where he had agreed to meet his friend Bill.

“I lay on my bedroll, drinking tea and watched the colourful panorama pass by the window: green fields, young wheat, yellow mustard, rustic dwellings and attractive wells, all set off against a beautiful sky that gave way to the sunset. When we stopped at a station I was captivated by the kaleidoscopic scene, full of interest and excitement – crowds of different races, pedlars, gurus with their chelas, fakirs with huge snakes around their necks, vendors selling sweetmeats, brahmins, beggars, betel-nut sellers – the whole sub-continent, it seemed, represented in a single setting. I was entranced by the whole journey.

He then meets Bill in the hotel in Puri, as agreed, and asks him about his trip.

“”A bloody awful one” he replied. “There was so much rattling and yelling, the noise was unbearable; the flies were awful, the people smelt almost as badly as the shit – ” he went on and on about it.

I then discovered that we had both travelled on the same train.”

I love this story. The conclusion Peter then draws is that I attract what I look for. When I look for the negative – that’s what I get. Look for the positive and I’ll find that.

Collecting the pieces of the puzzle

I draw another conclusion from this story.

All of us perceive the world through our own senses and react to them in our own unique way. Put any two people in the same situation and they’ll experience it differently.

All the time.

Who’s experience is the right one?

The answer, of course, is both are right … and neither are right. Each of us has only a small piece of the whole picture, one element of the jigsaw puzzle.

I’m faced with this moment by moment and I’ve basically got two choices:

1   Try to convince the world that my piece of the puzzle is the only piece.

2   Try to collect as many pieces as possible to make sense of the picture.

Which is the sane approach and which is the commonest approach?

As the old saying goes ‘Common sense isn’t very common’!

One of several important things I picked up at the ‘Big Mind‘ retreat in Ameland was the importance of how I use  language. It wasn’t new to me, but a very clear reminder about using personal pronouns – especially first and second person (’I’ and ‘You’).

I try to be very careful in my writing about how I use personal pronouns. Talking about ‘I’ and ‘Me’ does sound to me a bit egocentric at times but it’s very deliberate. When I use the first person I’m attempting to convey my experiences, my views, my piece of the jigsaw puzzle. If I was to use the second person, the risk is that you might hear me as trying to impose my truth onto you. And if it doesn’t agree with your view then you’re likely to have a defensive reaction.

Compare for example:

“… I attract what I look for. When I look for the negative – that’s what I get. Look for the positive and I’ll find that.”


“… you attract what you look for. When you look for the negative – that’s what you get. Look for the positive and you’ll find that.”

The difference is subtle but, I believe, crucial for reducing the amount of violence in the world.

The second sounds to me more like a lecture, a lesson for you about a universal truth. You may well agree, in which case we probably stop exploring the idea and congratulate each other that we’re like minded people. Neither of us learns much. On the other hand you may disagree and we’re more likely to start a debate about which of us has ‘the truth’. We may learn something from each other, but debate tends be confrontational rather than exploratory and often turns into argument.

I much prefer the first because, even when we disagree, the chances are that you’ll find it more inviting to share how you see it and I can learn and add your view to my own, and vice versa. We both pick up another piece of the puzzle of life.

Personal pronouns – the solution to peace?

I used, of course, a very mild example. Consider though the conflicts in the world.

Most (if not all) have their roots in two sides trying to impose their truth on the other side. It basically boils down to fighting about which side has the greatest claim on a piece of land, the right ideology or has superior racial roots.

How different would the world be if we all were seeking to understand each other instead of trying to educate each other?

It could be that paying attention to personal pronouns saves lives!

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