US Constitution - We The People with American Flag

People naturally identify with their co-workers, community members, family and friends as “us” or “we.”

Rudyard Kipling, an English novelist who was born in British India, immigrated to the United States in 1892 and moved to the Green Mountains of Vermont — a place I once called home for a short time. It was there that Kipling penned the famous “Jungle Book” for his newborn daughter, Josephine. Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 and went on to pen the poem “We and They,” the inspiration for my article this month. A very insightful line from that poem states, “All the people like us are We, everyone else is They.” The poem highlights the differences between British colonizers and the colonized, however, the truth of this statement can be applied in many ways.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution powerfully begins with, “We the People of the United States.” The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution powerfully begins with, “We the People of the United States.”

Years ago, I conducted a test related to the concepts of “We and They.” At a series of meetings, I asked each person to think of the word “They,” and write down the first three words that came to mind.I asked them to repeat the exercise thinking of the word “We.” Interestingly, the

results were the same regardless of the employee’s work location, division or group. The most common results for “They” were terms such as powerless, outsider and enemy. The most common results for “We” were team, family and friend.

The definition of the term “cooperative” is a farm, business or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits. I can’t think of a business model where the term “We” is more relevant. We are all united in a common mission to provide an economical and reliable power supply and support services to our members. However, as we all work hard to accomplish this goal, we can, at times, get caught up in our individual missions and lose sight of the fact that we are all on the same team. A clear sign of this is when people stop using the word “We” when discussing challenges and start using the word “They.”

My personal journey from “They” to “We” began when I was an enlisted sailor in the U.S. Navy. My shipmates and I would often complain about “They,” the officers. “‘They’ are making us clean the ship today,” or “‘They’ have canceled our liberty,” or “‘They’ want us to do it this way.” If you are going to complain about something in your life that you feel powerless to push back against, it is very simple to blame it on “They.”

In 1992, I received my commission as an Ensign in the Navy, making me an officer. When I reported to the USS Phoenix (SSN-702), I quickly realized that I had become “They” in the eyes of the crew, and that I needed to get to work and change that to “We.” I learned that it was a lot easier to sit around and complain about “They” than being a leader and finding ways to motivate and inspire others so that “We” could accomplish great things as a team. I learned that the bigger the “We,” the bigger the impact and significance that could be accomplished. I also learned that it took a lot of skill and effort to rally groups, departments and divisions with very different needs and desires, as well as cultures and personalities, to join “We,” while finding a path that also lets them maintain their small group identity.

Quite often when someone talks about “They” or “Them” in contrast to “Us” or “We,” it shows a sense of powerlessness and divisiveness, and that mindset can be a real barrier to achieving success. Conversely, the term “We” empoWErs us and makes us poWErful. There is great power in the term “We,” as evidenced by the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” I don’t know if more powerful words have ever been written in a secular document than “We the People.”

A great exercise in the workplace — that works for parenting as well — is to listen for the term “They,” and count the number of times you hear it used in conversations and meetings in a negative context about people. As you hear “They,” ask yourself, your co-workers or family members, “What it would take to change the conversation from ‘They’ to ‘We?’” Changing the conversation from one where, “‘They’ did this or that to me,” to one where,
“‘We’ did this or that together and accomplished something,” is a very challenging but rewarding effort.

When “We the People” means all the people, it makes us a stronger and more effective team, cooperative and nation. In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”