Of all the four-letter words (and their equivalents) getting tossed around casually and oh-so-publicly today, perhaps the one most often used – and abused – is “They.”
Most of the bad words we were taught never to say as children are used to express anger or condescension and are typically directed at an individual with the intent to harm or demean. Their scope, their field of injury, though able to cut deeply, is as narrow as a knife blade.
By contrast, ‘They’ is a nuclear bomb.
‘They’ is so widespread, it can negate an entire race. Think Hitler.
‘They’ can rigidly divide entire segments of society and pit them unforgivingly against one another. Think Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Socialists in 2016.
‘They’ prevents progress, prolongs differences and poisons hearts. Think everything from bitter divorce, to business deals gone sour to backyard neighbor disputes.
In today’s political and social climate, where people are so quick to label and judge someone(s) as ‘other,’ lumbering into their respective corners to load their guns as well as their tongues, society needs more of ‘We’ and ‘Us.’
This is especially true when disagreement is more the norm than is amiability among heads of both government and business. When in divisive conditions, the minute anyone says the word ‘They,’ the conversation stops.
Otherness is created, an impenetrable barrier erected separating me from you, my family from your family, city government from county government, private sector from public sector, small business from big boxes, national labs from entrepreneurs, politicians from the public, and so on.
Is it any wonder that the status quo is the status quo? How can a nation advance when the accepted starting points are separation, silence or violence? How can a community grow and become a more attractive place to live or start a business?
Being intentional about inclusivity is a good place to start. That principle has, in fact, helped guide leaders working to shape Albuquerque’s startup community, which has not only seen unprecedented growth but which is also receiving incredible national attention through inclusive programs like Entrepreneurial Mindset Training and projects like Innovate ABQ – a partnership between the mayor, the county, the private sector and higher education institutions. Conscious steps toward inclusion in recent years among government, education and corporate entities in our city have quite simply gotten more people talking about things they should have been talking about decades ago.
Sure, the conversations get messy, but under the right leadership with a true vision the work can be done.
This is all evidence that if we could abandon the very notion of ‘They’ and instead consider that everyone we interact with – either in person or on social media – is intelligent and sentient and more like us than not…
If we begin with the assumption that we are alike because of our humanity but that because of upbringing, environment, experience or education, there may be a minor and repairable shift in our sameness when we are poked in just the right way…
If we would, instead of labeling with the T-word, remark that a person’s view is interesting, ask how they arrived at their conclusion, and seek further discussion to better understand the opposing position…
Only if we start with these words is there room for progress.