I believe in saying “we”. By saying we, I want to show people that I understand their feelings and perspectives. This belief in an empathetic “we” is particular term from the fact that I was raised in Taiwan.
The first time I learned the term “we” was in a third grade writing class in my home country. The teacher told the students to avoid saying “you” and to say “we” instead. She had told me that by saying “you”, my tone sounded as if I consider myself superior to the readers, I was lecturing them and kept a distance between them and my ideas. She also taught my classmates and I that using “we” were preferable because it built a valuable connection between the writer and the reader. I was persuaded when my teacher asked me to compare the following two sentences if they are said by a mother to a child. The first one was “you should wash you hands before eating” and the second was “we should wash our hands before eating.” I thought the second sentence was more persuasive, because it sounded like a mother was encouraging her child to obey the same rule she conformed with. I have been steeped in the thought of “we” for thirty years and I firmly believe that using ‘we” will remind me to put myself into someone else’s shoes before having an appropriate response to their situations.
However, when I came to America a year ago and attended an English writing class, the teacher told me that the term “we” sound as though I was saying something on behalf of the readers who didn’t necessarily share my ideas. For example, I wrote the following sentence from a student perspective, “We are trained to unconsciously hand over our judgments by acknowledging the standard answers we learned from our teachers.” My teacher thought that the term “we” confuses people by obscuring the definition of the subject- who are included in “we”? She pointed out that other students in the class came from different backgrounds; as a consequence, they probably would hold different opinions. I had to agree that I was certainly convinced by her argument, but I still hold a special affection for the term “we”.
I believe that saying “we” influences how Taiwanese people think and behave. For example, when I go to a supermarket to refill empty water jars, I would automatically refill my roommate’s because I understand that if I need water, so does she. And, I thought at first my roommate might think the same way as I did. However, one of my friends thought this act of generosity on my part, was not welcome. She reasoned that my roommate probably didn’t fill her water jars because she felt that it was not necessary instead of having no time to refill them. Therefore, my behavior, from my friend’s perspective, was too subjective. My friend told me that I was running the risk of embarrassing my roommate because she might feel the need to pay me even though she did not need the water. My friend’s opinion sounded objective, but detached. After thinking it for a while, I still refilled the empty water jars for my roommate. I thought I would refill the water jars for her rather than see her running out of drinking water. If my roommate didn’t need water, I did not care to use the refilled water. Moreover, I did not mind whether my roommate would pay me or not, since the fee for water refilling was so cheap.
Now I still keep the habit of using “we” when I talk. I believe that when using “we”, I involve myself in the subject which I am talking about. That helps me to develop an objective opinion through feeling the circumstances that other people have encountered and enables me to have a more thoughtful and humble mind.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.