Othering

I left my job in August, and I thought I had left behind the anxiety and frustration inherent in working in a corporate world. But yesterday I learned that five people, all officers at the company where I used to work, were let go. I am not sure of the circumstances around the decision — downsizing, firing for cause, reorganization — and I don’t suppose it matters. One of those individuals was a particularly good friend, the person I most identified and aligned with at the company, so I felt the elimination more personally than I otherwise would have.

Ugh, I know what it’s like in the office now. Whispers, conjecture, official announcements with partial truths, a grappling for the newly available positions.

I realized something else:  when I described what had happened to my husband, I referred to the company differently that I had before. After working there so long in a leadership role, I tended to say things like, “What we do in these situations” or “Our approach typically is,” even after I was no longer actually a part of the company.

But yesterday, my phrasing turned to othering, e.g., “What they do in those situations” and “They usually.” It was as if I had been let go,  or perhaps I let myself go, and I was truly on the outside of the company and its decisions. I had “othered” the company.

It makes a difference, speech does. In how we align ourselves, in how we identify ourselves. I see it both presidential candidates’ words — inserting “the” in front of a group of people other his own or using “we” and “our” when she is talking about plans for the future. Subtle, powerful, chosen, or simply ingrained … the words matter.

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