Speaking English without Unconscious Projection

The way many people use the English language has projection built into it.

Although English does have an impersonal third-person pronoun, if one uses it one sounds pretentious and one tends to alienate one’s listener, at least in the U.S.A..

So we tend to substitute ‘you’ for ‘one’.

You know how when you’re talking,and you’re describing something that happens to you, and you want to generalize the experience, so you use ‘you’ instead of ‘I’?

“You know how when you…” starts so many sentences in the U.S., at least in my generation and younger.

I noticed this can also alienate the people I’m talking to; maybe they’re never had that particular experience, and they DON’T know “how it is”.

I know that when I’m talking, even if I think it’s a generalized experience, I do my best to remember to use ‘I’ or ‘people’ instead of ‘one’ or ‘you’.

This allows my listeners to hear something I’m saying about myself, so they hear that it’s true for me. It can either resonate with or be different from their experiences; either way, I can feel validated that they understood me, and they can feel validated that I’m not projecting my experiences onto them.

Feel the difference:

“You know how when you meet someone and you’re really attracted to him and then you find out he’s a douche? Yeah, that just happened to me.”

“I just met someone and I was really attracted to him and then he turned out to be a douche. This happens to me all the time.”

“You know how when you get on your computer to check an e-mail and your fb page is open and you start reading and commenting and before you know it 3 hours have gone by and you forgot to check your e-mail and you can’t remember why you got on the computer in the first place?”

“It happens to me all the time that I get on my computer to check an e-mail and my fb page is open and I read one status update and before I know it 3 hours have gone by and not only have I not checked my e-mail, I can’t even remember why I got on the computer. Does this ever happen to you?”

I think people often communicate in order to be seen and be heard; my best guess is that people use the phrase ‘you know when you’ because they are seeking validation and witnessing for their experiences, so they think the best way of getting it is to suppose that their listeners have had the same experience.

Yet, if their listener hasn’t had that experience, the phrase ‘you know when you’ invites the word ‘no’, which isn’t very validating.

On the other hand, if I talk about my experiences without assuming my listener has had similar ones, I find I can receive empathy and validation even if that person has never had that experience, because they can always say ‘yes’ to understanding that that is my experience.

If I say something like, “I find that whenever I’m stressed out, my room gets really dirty,” people can respond with something like, “Yeah, me too,’ or “Not me, I go on a cleaning frenzy when I’m stressed out.” Either way, we get to have a conversation where both of us get to have our realities accepted and validated, and we learn something by comparing notes.

If I say something like, “You know how when you get stressed out, your room gets really dirty?” one person might say, “Totally!”, where the other might say, “No way, I hate having a dirty room when I get stressed out!” Communication is still happening, but subconsciously I might feel that my needs aren’t getting met by the second person. Hearing “No way!” feels different from hearing “Not me!”

Ever since I became more aware of framing my experiences in a personal way, communication has gotten a lot juicier. The more I’ve rooted out using the word ‘you’ in any way besides referring to the actual person I’m presently talking to, the more fluid and fruitful my conversations have become. It has made such a huge difference that it’s convinced me that saying ‘you’ when I mean ‘I’ or ‘people in general’ is subconsciously perceived as an act of aggression.

Really, I suppose it is an act of aggression to impose my world view onto someone else.

Here are some more examples:

“Whisky is better than beer.” vs. “I like whiskey better than beer.”

“You should always make the guy pay on the first date.” vs.
“I always make the guy pay on the first date.”

“You never know what’s going to happen.” vs.
“I never know what’s going to happen.” or
“It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen.”

Even after years of practice, I still find ‘you’ creeping into my speech…and yet I think it’s worth it to recognize it and change it to be a more accurate reflection of what I want to say whenever possible.

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