I am going to make a confession.
I didn’t really understand why it was so important for someone to know your personal pronouns. I wondered why, of all the things a person could identify with, what made personal pronouns such a big deal? Why did knowing them matter to me? I felt I was open and accepting regardless of whatever pronouns someone wanted to use or identify with. As a human resource professional, I had to be. I guess I didn’t really have to be, but I sincerely did want to accept people for who they were. I just didn’t get what was so important about knowing a person’s preferred pronouns.
Then one day I had an epiphany. I realized I had to get over myself because this wasn’t about me. It was about the other person’s concerns. I had been approaching the world from my own perspective. Making my personal pronouns known to others might not be important to me, but to someone else it mattered. It was their way to say, “This is who I am. Accept me.” I came to realize it was an invitation to connect, to understand, and to accept.
I started identifying my preferred pronouns in my work email signature. Nothing really radical, but a new step for me. I was a bit apprehensive to be honest. Not everyone in my circle of friends and acquaintances had the same view or understanding that I had arrived at. At first, it felt a little strange. I justified it to myself by saying I was the human resources guy, so it was important for me to be relatable to our employees. But I soon realized I didn’t need to justify it to myself or anyone if I truly cared. I was long overdue in learning how to love my neighbor and not simply tolerate my neighbor.
We don’t really love someone until we can do so without letting our own view of life get in the way of how we love them. The Golden Rule is genius—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Some say a better version of it, often referred to as the Platinum Rule, is to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. I understand the whole platinum rule idea, but feel it misses the human part of human nature. Here’s the rub. I don’t know of a human being that doesn’t first think of themselves, even the most altruistic. It is how we are wired biologically and psychologically. The Golden Rule acknowledges our natural self-centeredness but then turns our selfishness into empathy for another human being. Its ego Jujutsu, the redirecting of our natural self. We can imagine what we would like and feel, but we may not be so great at figuring out what someone else might like or feel—although I freely admit I know those who do a great job at it. For the rest of us self-centered types, however, we need a path forward. In its practice, we come to realize that another person’s happiness isn’t contingent on what makes us happy. As you live the Golden Rule with real sincerity, you can’t help but consider what is important to another person—regardless of our own preferences.
Recently, I worked at my organization’s booth at the local Pride Festival. It was a place that people could be themselves without feeling the need to live according to someone else’s idea of what was right for them. For many, this was a safe place. A place to breathe easy, and even if for only a few hours, a place where they could be their best selves. People who wanted what I wanted; to be acknowledged, understood, and accepted for who they are. What human being doesn’t want these things? How many are so lucky to have them? Not so many, unfortunately—in all walks of life.
In this kaleidoscope of people I felt something. In spite of all the expressions of individuality, I felt unity. What I saw were people—not agendas or issues, just people. We were all gathered together to offer respect, to understand, and to accept each other for who we are. When there is respect, acceptance, and understanding, we can begin to identify with another set of personal pronouns, “we” and “us.” We can solve a lot of problems when we start identifying as we and us. The planet needs us, and we need each other.
Oh, and in case you are wondering—my personal pronouns are he/him.
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