You and I are They

My mother had a fond acquaintance with “they.”  She often referenced they in conversation.  They always seemed to know the best restaurant. They said who was going to win an election.  They knew the right kind of car to buy, where to shop for clothes, and would even tell you the best places to vacation.  I was fascinated with they even though I’m not sure if I ever met them.

Years later I was introduced.  

As the Human Resources Director for a large organization, in spite of the size of the agency, it was rare to realize moments of anonymity.  One day while riding in an elevator, a fellow passenger with whom I was not acquainted joined me.  During our 40 second ride I witnessed his agitation:  he ranted and raved about a personnel policy that he felt was unjust, not right, and unfair.  As he exited, he closed with, “I can’t believe they are doing this to me!”

Guess who had ownership of that policy.

I couldn’t help myself and walked off the elevator with the gentleman.  Before he was able to get more than a few steps ahead of me a discovery was made that I was compelled to share with him:  “I am they.”  

He turned to look at me, surprised and a bit embarrassed.  Figuratively backpedaling he struggled with a “I didn’t mean you…I’m just frustrated…please forgive me, etc.”  I recall responding with a chuckle and a smile, conceding a level of responsibility and inviting him to tell me more about the source of his aggravation.  In an odd sort of way there was a powerful humility in having been presented an opportunity to have a conversation that might lead to a greater understanding and acceptance.  

We did discuss things. I felt better.  I hope he did, too.

I was they

In that instance I wanted to be a they who made a difference.  A they who distinguished himself.  A they who renewed some faith in how they conducted himself through some measure of fortitude and acceptance of responsibility.  

Deep within each of us doesn’t there exist a certain drive towards being a they?  An essential element that requires us to be distinctive, not just like everyone else.

Tom Peters, author of “In Search of Excellence,” spoke at a program some years back.  At that time he was on a rant about hiring “weird” people.  He was not necessarily talking about people who acted differently or had eccentricities, although persons of these categories may have been included.  Rather, what he meant was that organizations needed to consider attracting staff who would “think outside the box,” add diverse views, approaches, and opinions and challenge pre-conceived assumptions. 

Peters went on to say,

“Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEO’s of our own companies: Me, Inc.  To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”  

What is your brand?

Steve Allen was the forerunner of what became Johnny Carson’s, Jay Leno’s, and now Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.  One of television’s pioneers, Allen helped launch the careers of many well-known musicians, comedians, and TV stars.

In the early 1960’s one of his programs featured a young musician, who had created a fusion of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and classical sounds into a unique genre that included a bicycle, a bow from a bass player, and drumsticks.  Most observers accepted the “music” as a parody of the “mainstream,” however, the young man persisted with his art form beyond the Tonight Show.  Although this artist would never achieve Top 40 “commercial success,” he revolutionized an approach that would inspire others to non-conformance, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, and musical virtuosity.  Frank Zappa became a brand of the then 60’s counterculture, yet stayed current throughout each of the decades until his death in 1993.  

Many portrayed Zappa as “weird.”  To me he knew how to package and sell his product.  Others might have called him they.

We are all a “they” to someone.  We create impressions.  We have certain characteristics and tendencies that others may or may not mimic.  We inspire and sometimes disappoint.  We are unique and have within us the ability to influence.   

Now I know.  You and I are they


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