By Kirk McCarley
My mother had a fond acquaintance with “they.” She often referenced they in conversation. They always seemed to know the best restaurant. 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. Once, while in an elevator, a fellow passenger with whom I was not acquainted joined me. During our ride I witnessed his agitation: rants and raves about a personnel policy he felt was unjust, not right, and unfair. Exiting, he closed with, “I can’t believe they are doing this to me!”
Guess who had crafted that policy.
Walking off the elevator with the gentleman, before he was able to get more than a few steps ahead of me 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 his aggravation. In that instance I wanted to be a they who made a difference. A they who renewed some faith in how they conducted himself through some measure of fortitude and acceptance of responsibility. We did discuss things. I felt better. I hope he did, too.
I was they. 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 were eccentric, rather, what he meant was that organizations needed to attract 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.” An early 1960’s episode of The Tonight Show 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. 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 the years until his death in 1993. Many portrayed Zappa as “weird.” Perhaps, but he also 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.