Saturday, June 14, 2014

of importunists and we-asels

I tried several times to write what follows for publication, but couldn't make it happen. There isn't enough there there and what is there seemed to be mismanaged no matter what my efforts. Nevertheless, I like the idea, however mismanaged, so I'm sticking one version here as a means of being quits with it all.

Along the way, I found out that although "importunist" is not a noun, several people on the Internet seemed to agree with me that it OUGHT to be.


Not long ago, a somewhat younger acquaintance offered to take me out to dinner at a restaurant he liked. At 74 and retired, I never turn down a free meal and so, at the appointed time, we met and sat down and were attended to.

It was one of those places with rehabbed industrial brick walls, a buffed mahogany bar and engaging waitresses with just a hint of the offbeat about them ... a dime-sized rose tattoo on the back of an exposed left shoulder, perhaps. The clientele all seemed to be wearing "hand-crafted" shoes.

As we sat sipping our drinks and waiting for what my companion assured me was a truly outstanding fried chicken, he told me, en passant, that he liked the place partly because he was hoping to involve our waitress in a three-some he and his girlfriend were planning.

I declined to bite down on this juicy tidbit of information not because I am a prude and not because I have an inactive fantasy life but because experience has taught me that the greater the number, the less convincing the intimacy. And sex, among other things, has always struck me as an intimate pastime.

It was this small incident that put me in mind of other realms of contrived and sometimes conniving intimacy: The use of the word "we" is one of them.

Where, in the world of sexual possibility, there are three-somes, so in a wider world there seems to be an endless array of we-somes.

"We have to appreciate climate change."

"We have to get rid of the crooks in Washington."

"We need to understand God's plan."

"We must come to terms with a racist past."

"We need to exercise compassion."

It is not enough for these 'importunists' to say what "I" have to say and allow listeners or readers to make up their own minds. By asserting a collective identity that has not been honestly established, their own doubts are kept at bay. And, coincidentally, the odds of making some money go up.

Yes, it is always well-intended ... sincere dontcha know. We-asels are always sincere.

But it is also condescending in ways that, at my age, I am unwilling to condone or overlook. And it was in this regard that I hit upon my own sure-fire defense mechanism.

As a person who enjoys reading, writing and listening, I will no longer do any of those things for authors or speakers who use the word "we" in the first three paragraphs of whatever case they were making. Aside from anything else, a person who insists on using the word "we" suggests to me someone who is not yet sure enough of his or her own beliefs to use the more straightforward "I." If such people don't believe their own arguments, why should I?

I have been pleasantly surprised at how much lighter the load became -- how much easier -- since my new dictum went into effect.

I am more than willing to ingest what anyone has to say -- however magical or ludicrous -- but I decline to be included in the conclusion until I reach it. More important, since I live on a fixed income, I decline to reach for my wallet or dissolve in fawning applause before I reach it.

Lest anyone think that these are nothing but the ravings of a crabby old cuss, I will concede that there are legitimate uses of the first-person plural, "we." When the sergeant tells his platoon, "we are ordered to take that hill," it is a statement of fact. When a talking head asserts without detailed evidence that "we are threatened by terrorists," I believe I'll head for the exit.

The cussedness of advancing age cannot be denied in the midst of making an argument against the importuning we-asels of this life.

But I also can't help wondering if it's not just a bad case of advancing common sense.