They. This mysterious they.
“Why are they doing it like that?”
“Can you believe that they haven’t done that yet?”
This concept of “they” is a powerful linguistic construction. It allows an enormous number of scenarios to be created. And it is typically so highly abstracted to the point that it makes the real meaning invisible, and in my view is almost always harmful when used in this way.
The process happens fast. We see something, and our mind instantly recoils from it. It’s not flinching from the thing. Rather it feels some discomfort, a base level of fear, and it doesn’t like that, and instantly creates a strategy to avoid this discomfort. With this particular strategy we create a complaint. “Why did they do it that way, that’s wrong.” This is subtle and pervasive.
I noticed it recently when I went to open the front door of my apartment building. It was late at night when I was coming back and it was dark. I fumbled around in the dark for a minute trying to get the key in. Then this powerful thought came through, with a strong sense of righteousness fueling it – “Why don’t they have a light here!? Why on earth would they not have installed a light so that people can see when they’re putting the key in the door.” So swiftly and powerfully did this particular mental construction of “they” arise.
I noticed it after it arose, and got to laugh at it. But it is endemic in our thought processes, and without noticing it much of the time we don’t laugh at it, we believe it as truth.
It is deeply divisive, and so not-the-truth. In that moment, after noticing it, instead I chose to relax for a moment from fumbling frustratingly with the key in the dark, and reflected with deep appreciation for all the construction workers that spent their toil and sweat on creating this wonderful shelter that I get to use for a while. All the intricate details of the electrical system, the heating and cooling at a touch of a button, the windows, the screens. The doorway that keeps me safe inside, with this ingenious locking device and doorknob to let me pass through to the inside while keeping the outside out. So many details all designed and built in this place that I get to now use to make so many aspects of my life more comfortable. And all I have to do for the privilege of living here for a while is click a few buttons to transfer some numbers between bank accounts. It’s amazing!
All of that becomes invisible when we fall into the trap of “they”.
I see this construction, this escape, this easy-way-out everywhere. It is plastered across people’s Facebook posts – “how could they”. There typically is no actual “they” when we think or say this. The entire construction is false. But we have abstracted the concept so much that we fail to recognize that.
In my example there really is no “they” that sat around all day long in some cabal and kept making the decision to actively remove all lamps from doorways so that people would get frustrated when putting their key into door locks. It is preposterous, yet that is what this thought construction implies. It implies some sort of conspiracy, always in place, against which we must rail for justice – justice for our closed-in oppressed world in which we are always the victim.
It feeds the constriction and contraction of mind. It creates an enemy where none exists. It turns us away from appreciation. It moves us out of alignment with abundance. It keeps us in the past, in victimhood, and in smallness.
Sometimes, conspiracies do exist, consciously and unconsciously, and we should rail against them for justice. Some of what’s currently going on in the news falls into that category.
But, for much of our day, in situations where privilege is not so much in play, this concept of “they” is a false and harmful construct, but one of which we are often very unaware. And the world that we live in changes completely when we shift our perception on this.
It’s not something to beat ourselves up about, it’s just what we have practiced doing unconsciously. Instead, practice reaching for self-authorized creative co-operation. “Ah – it would be really useful to have a light when I come home in the dark, let me put a flashlight in my pocket for next time.” “Ah, I’ll give my friend the contractor a call and get a proposal to the apartment owner to install a light here to help myself and the rest of the tenants.”
It is a powerful practice to notice whenever complaint arises, and see whether you can feel down below the complaint to whatever fear you felt that caused the mind to constrict and instantly construct this strategy of complaint to avoid feeling. Can you open up instead of closing down?Create a gap, take a breath, and practice being with whatever part of you feels uncomfortable. In my case with the struggle to get the key in the door, I felt annoyance at myself for being incompetent, for being stupid. Not able to put a key in the door. And so to avoid feeling that, a complaint about “they” arose which allowed me to avoid feeling stupid – a core fear of mine.