Pronoun; plural of I.
We is our most important word because, let’s face it, I has brought us to the brink of extinction.
From the pharaohs to Aristotle, from cogito, ergo sum to superego, throughout the rise of Christianity and the modern world, it’s all about I. I am what matters. It’s every man for himself. If I steal or sin, I can repent and God will forgive me. Am I my brother’s keeper? What about what I want?
We says we’re in this together.
We is when the choir assembles. The barista, the ad rep, the Uber driver, the personal trainer, the teacher, the statistician, all coming together, taking off their hats and scarves and gloves, offloading their emotional baggage, breathing deeply, and preparing to make music. The paradigm shifts. There is no I in together. It’s all of us, and this is what most terrifies the terrified. Going from I to I to I leads to “others” being invariably called out as somehow less deserving, less righteous, not I.
Of course We is also what happens in armies, when I is expunged and us becomes the operating principle, always defined in opposition to them. Our team versus their team. But where teams are formed to win something—a game, a war, a cause—the choir’s only purpose is to sing.
In all creation, only homo sapiens operates on the principle of I. Observe the birds and the beavers. There is not an I among them. They function in tandem. The survival and wellbeing of the community prevails. Together they thrive. Ditto wolves and elephants, ants and dolphins, and, we are learning, even trees.
We don’t often think of flora as sentient but advancing science informs us differently. Trees are social beings, with individual brains linked through the fungi on their roots to a worldwide neural network. They thrive in communities. They exchange information. They have been observed healing their sick and aiding the animals and insects cohabiting the world with them. Linked by common cause, they function for the common good.
Messages are also reaching us from the farthest reaches of spacetime that all of the infinite galaxies are interconnected by mysterious, mutually influencing strands of commonality. Everything is connected, from the miniest micro to the mightiest macro, composed of the same stuff, unspooling like DNA or dervishes in a cosmic dance, numberless, moving to the music of the spheres.
We is inclusive and fundamental.
Admittedly, we has gotten us into a lot of trouble. It has been distorted by megalomaniacs to direct the collective we against an other, an outsider, an enemy, a roadblock to the absolute power of the supreme I. This is not an inherent flaw in we. It is an appropriation of its power, a usurpation, a perversion. As a result, many object to the subordination of I to we and it is easy to understand why. The lessons of slavery, genocide, and war, whether powered by religion, greed, or fear, have made collectivized society look pretty bad. But it is shortsighted to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Everything happens at a particular time in a particular place and bears the imprint of complex forces, some readily identified, some veiled and distant. Their convergence creates a unique moment. What happens then is a product of that moment. It is definitely not what necessarily happens in other circumstances at other times. Like fingerprints and sunsets, each moment is different.
Think back to the choir.
The individual voices, each with a unique range and timbre, no two alike, thirty, sixty, eighty of them, blend into a unified sound. I becomes we. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They become music. They become that universal language requiring no specific words in common to enjoy it, no analogous customs, or particular diplomas, or religious affiliations. People across the globe all groove to the same beat even though the rest of the time they may think they hate each other. In the choir each member suspends I to become augmented, enhanced, richer, more brilliant and more beautiful.
I represents an isolated and fragmented universe of individuals. (I am nothing.) We represents the world of the community. (We are the world.)
We is all who trust that the common good, in human life as in the natural world, is more important than the wishes and wants of individuals.
Imagine a moment—now, or not far from now—when I is subsumed in a powerful WE to sing a new song vibrating sympathetically with the butterflies and the bears and the lullabies of the whales, the music of people everywhere actively healing our world instead of trashing it, sucking it dry, and throwing away the husk.
I can’t do it. Even you can’t do it.
We can. That’s what we does.
It binds you and you and you together.
We can do anything.