Who are ‘they?’
As a child, I was told by my grandmother, that I mustn’t speak aloud for ‘they’ will hear. “Girls must speak softly,” she would say. With my grandfather passing away a year before I was born, my grandmother became the responsible matriarch who everybody looked up to. She managed everything with an iron hand and a calm demeanor. Her love did not become an impediment when it came to enforcing rules. One of those rules was that “Girls must behave in a becoming manner: strong yet soft.” In today’s management terms, it would mean ‘assertive.’ While I totally respect grandma’s teachings and credit her for many of the things that I feel good about myself, I have often wondered if “they,” whom I was to worry about were not the reason behind me not being a go-getter or a self-starter.
It would be unfair to lay the blame on grandma’s doorstep entirely, for what she said is what I heard my parents say and unfortunately is what I replicated when I had my own children without realizing the repercussions of the seed that I was sowing. ‘The seed of doubt,’ that requires constant acceptance from ‘they,’ to germinate.
“Think before you speak or else they will think you are stupid.”
“Be careful. They will laugh.”
“What will they think of you?”
How often have we heard statements like this during our growing up years. Statements that soon become a voice in our head. I would guess pretty often and most often from those who love us the most. Little does this support system realize how inhibiting “they” becomes. It takes the shape of a invisible cage within which a child learns to flap its wings and fly. No matter how much it flaps or flies or how high it goes; it does so within the cage. And then one day the child meets others from different cultures who are more outgoing, confident and carefree because nobody ever asked them to think of ‘they.’
The child now wonders, ” What is wrong?” and looks for the support of gurus, self-help books, counselors who come at a cost, to remediate, what was unconsciously, done in the child’s best interest.
The gurus then say, “ Do what you love,” “Forget the world,” “Take charge. Forget ‘they’, ‘them'” And the child listens enlightened, trying to unlearn what has been told to him all his life and learn the new mantra.
Know who ‘they’ are. Be sure to check
As a parent, I learnt quickly that I needed to amend the mistake I was making and, my teachers were none other than my own teenage daughter’s who had started using ‘them’ and ‘they’ for a purpose of their own.
“They said, we don’t have class today, so can we not go to school.”
“They said it was ok to do it and so I did.”
No reply. Silence. Irritation.
You don’t need to create a monster of the world to get your kids to listen.
So parents of little children if you are still doing it, please STOP. If you don’t like something your kid is doing, just say it. There’s seriously no reason to bring “they” or “them” into it. ‘They’ or ‘Them’ do not matter. If for any reason you do say “they”, please clarify who constitutes the ‘they?’
Unfortunately this use of ‘they’ as a back-up answer is most often used by juniors in the office just like children. Only here not knowing who ‘they’ are may may cost you your job!
“They said we do not need to attach the documents, so we stopped.”
“They said this was the process and so I followed it”
Imagine when this is the response in the middle of an audit. Once hurt, twice shy. I soon learnt to ask “Who “they?” followed by a requirement of written evidence, even if it seemed like I was ‘Doubting Thomas.’ This new policy had a zero-fail-rate.
To people who manage teams or are team players, please ensure you check who ‘they’ are. It may save the world from frauds, scams and God knows what else.
When you must care about what ‘they’ think?
Last weekend, I was at a book launch where I met writers’, editors and their families. A cozy group providing enough opportunity for great interaction. Thank God for the accompanying family members, breaking the ice became easier ( with most writers being introverts).
The ice-breaking line was, ” Which anthology have you written for?” and then ” What do you do: your real job?”
‘Writing’ is as good as redundant a job, in ‘Indian eyes’ where achievement is measured by result, not effort.
‘Writing’ obviously is not a ‘real’ job when you are not paid for it and it doesn’t help meet your expenses.
As it’s been more than 6 months since I left my job, my answer to the question asked, was ” Nothing!” (I’m not sure what the acceptable time limit is, to keep harping over one’s previous profession). Saying “Nothing,” allows me not to have to explain further. After all who knows when I will meet ‘these’ people again? How does it matter to ‘them?’ (Remember I am the expert in the field of not giving a hoot to ‘they’)
Even as I shut my mouth, after that one word answer, without further thought, a charming, elderly lady whom I had met at a previous launch, 5 months ago, intervened. Moving forward, she said, ” Smitha was a banker, has worked for 2 decades in senior positions in the Middle East. She just moved to Mumbai, a few months ago.”
There was an instant approval from those around, by way of a smile and a nodding of heads. The scales were tipping upwards. The audience comprised of retired professors, principals, teachers, bankers and working doctors ( that’s probably because doctors never really retire). It was somehow important for these people to know that this newbie had more to her than trying her hand at writing. ‘They’ had surfaced again, after years of training my mind to get over them.
“You must miss your job,” came the next question.
‘Well not really. I keep myself busy, reading and improving on my writing. I just miss the dressing to work (now I sit in my pajamas, in front of the laptop typing away), I also miss the credit into my bank account at the end of the month and the appreciation because a stay-at-home mum, is a thankless job,’ is what I wanted to say but instead I began listing the things that I was doing and that made me appear ‘productive’ in ‘their’ eyes. Why?
When ‘they’ matter
As I sit back and write this post, I wonder why I did what I did. And I have come to the conclusion that ‘they’ matter when you have a product to sell or you want to invest in a long-lasting relationship.
‘They’ constitute your customers. Its simple marketing. Being a new writer, my writing must essentially be good, to make a breakthrough. That goes without saying but for people to even want to read, what I write, they need to know why they should invest their time in reading my work. “What do I have that stands out?” Apparently, these days, marketing yourself is applicable for writers too! In fact, it is the order of the day.
Know when ‘they’ don’t matter and free yourself
In the end analysis, unless you are absolutely certain that ‘they’ are likely to benefit you monetarily or emotionally, ‘they’ do not count.
You and only you must draw a line which areas of your life you are willing to be influenced by ‘they?’
Allow them in if ‘they’ help you soar; do not, if ‘they’ clip your wings.
Trust me, there will be just a handful of ‘they’ and ‘them’ that matter, when you apply the filter.
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