Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Plague of the 'Reflective You'

There is a plague sweeping through the English speaking Americas that is causing ambiguity and miscommunication in every town, city, and neighborhood it enters. You may have heard it in a recent conversation, seen it on the news or some youtube clip, or even used it yourself. And I guarantee you its implemetation most likely causes great confusion amongst any who happen to be in earshot. I've been unable to find an actual term for it, so I've decided to name it "reflective you".

Here's how it works. A person in a conversation will be describing a task or concept in which many people frequently enact or engage. In place of refering to these hypothetical people directly, this person uses the word "you", even if the person receiving this information has never thought or participated before in this task or concept. Therefore, the listener has to translate this usage of the word "you" to mean "the people who think or do this thing we're discussing" which makes the conversation less effective and efficient than it could be.

Let me see if I can provide an example.

Say I'm discussing with some friends of mine a new Wal-Mart being built in the middle of Philadelphia (where I live) and I say something like:

If you put a Wal-Mart in an inner-city community then you will lose all of your local businesses because you won't be able to compete with such a big company.

Everytime the word "you" is used in this sentence it never refers to the listener for whom I've uttered this thought. The first one actually refers to the Wal-Mart corportation itself. The second and third translate to mean the people of the community; "we" and "us" to be more precise. The final one references the local businesses that will lose their patrons to the large corporation. At no time in this sentence does the speaker reference the listener directly. Therefore it should read:

If they (they=Wal-Mart Corp.) put a Wal-Mart in an inner-city community then we will lose all of our local businesses because they (they=local businesses) won't be able to compete with such a big company.

or even better:

If Wal-Mart puts a store in an inner-city community then we will lose all of our local businesses because they won't be able to compete with such a big company.

In both of these revised versions of this thought, the subject to which the speaker is refering is much clearer and the point is made more cleanly. There is absolutely no confusion about what is being discussed and the major players of the issue.

I hear this convoluted usage of "you" very often; in fact almost every day. People use this to discuss all kinds of sophisticated topics that require much more clarity and specificity than this usage can provide. Its popularity has inspired me to work towards removing all traces of its implementation in my daily conversations. I take time to consider exactly who and what I'm discussing and how best to reference them in the stream of speech. Sometimes it means I breathe without speaking for significant periods between thoughts, maybe two to five seconds. Many times that's simply too long for someone to wait for my thought, so I'm often interupted by faster thinking people with less precision.

Nevertheless, I'm determined to rid this plague from our shores! If you or someone you know has been affected by the "reflective you", feel free to contact me and I will provide an appropriate treatment of the proper liguistic medication. Thank you all for your time.

Yes, I'm talking to you.


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