A friend asked me a question recently that kind of got me thinking. She asked me why I refer to my son as “my” son, instead of including my wife in the phrase and saying “our” son. I hadn’t realized I was doing this. But I think it stems from a habit I have been trying to get into regarding the way I speak.
One thing that I really pick up on is when people are giving advice and make statements like “YOU need to remember…” or “WE must always…”. To me, statements like that don’t carry much weight. Why do “we” need to do this? Do YOU do this? Maybe it’s nitpicking, but the words have meaning. If the idea being expressed is solid, why isn’t the speaker taking ownership of it? Is it a good idea for ME, but not for you? Has the speaker achieved some sort of exalted state of Nirvana or enlightenment where forward progress and self-improvement are no longer necessary?
The people who have had the most influence on me and my thinking are people who have experienced the life they’re talking about, who have hands-on experience. People who have actually done it, actually lived it. Anybody can preach. Anybody can write. Anybody can give advice. What I want is wisdom from someone who is walking the same path I am and can impart some sort of useful information based on a shared experience. That seems more useful than someone telling me what they think I should do. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but I think the difference between giving advice to others and sharing what works for you is valid.
I’m not very comfortable placing myself in a group. I’m an individual. I have things in common with many others, but I am hesitant to assume membership in a group. For example, I don’t call myself a “vegan”. I am a person who eats a lot of vegan food. I am a person who avoids using items made from animal products whenever possible. But I definitely do not self-identify as “a vegan”. Similarly, I am a big fan of Buddhist philosophy. I think many of its concepts are true. I incorporate many Buddhist practices in my daily life. Following Buddhist principles is a big part of who I am. But I do not consider myself “a Buddhist”.
Maybe I just hate labels so much I am loathe to use them on others, let alone myself. I feel like people are too complex to try to fit into boxes. One of the things I like the most about Buddhism is that you aren’t required to accept the whole thing as a complete body of work. You’re encouraged to try out the different concepts and see what works for you in your own practice. If it works, then the teaching is true and can be trusted. If it doesn’t work, move on. That really speaks to me. I’m very wary of any school of thought that requires me to buy into all the ideas. I prefer an a la carte menu when it comes to any kind of philosophy.
When I am speaking I try to remember to avoid phrases that require the listener to buy into what I am saying. I’ll use myself as the subject, and share what works for me, what I might do in a certain situation, rather than using the listener as the subject and telling them what to do. I feel like that is a better way to express my ideas, to express my convictions and get my point across.
So when I refer to Troy as “my son” it’s me taking ownership of that relationship. If I’m standing there with my wife, then using the term “our son” might be more appropriate. But I take full responsibility for my relationship with my child. I don’t need validation from anyone else, even his mother, to accept my part in that relationship.
That kind of sums up my philosophy on individuality and self. I speak for myself. Even if others are a part of what I’m involved in, I prefer to lead by example, and use my own experience as the template. If how I am expressing myself speaks to you, if it inspires you to want to get on board with it, cool.
If not, that’s okay too.
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