You People

Growing up, my dad used “you people” to refer to the rest of the inhabitants of the house when we’d done something he didn’t like. It was inevitably combined with “always”. “You people always leave the lights on when you leave the room!” This phrase is custom-tailored to hit just exactly wrong: “You people” excluded himself from the group of family members who are wrong, and “always” was of course an exaggeration. Somehow, when he forgot to turn the light off, it was a one-time aberration.

Living with other people is a pain in the ass. I’ve been in a standoff with my wife for a few days about the stuff she left on the floor and said she would move. I walk around it, she walks around it. It’s taken me twenty years to learn that she literally does not notice it; it does not cross her brain in the same way as it crosses mine. Which means that the only one actually in this standoff is me.

The solution is not that I pick it up and put it away; rather, I learn to say without an accusing tone, “Hey, please put your stuff away.” And not, “You people always leave your stuff lying around.” That is an accusation, not a request. Even if it’s true, it doesn’t get us very far. Best case, the person picks their stuff up this one time while telling you about the last thing you did wrong. Worst case, it devolves into a fight about who always does what wrong.

Should I just accept that she will always leave her stuff in random places? No, but this is where I’ve learned to pick my battles and look for patterns rather than aberrations. Aberrations, one-time slips – just let it go. Extend grace to the people you care about and just pick the thing up, or politely ask them to do it. Save your energy for the important conversations.

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