Illustration of a person speaking on a podium

On Behalf of Everyone

Every now and then, my wife will do a double-take toward me and then head to her bathroom and emerge with tweezers to groom some horrifyingly errant hair from my person. I do not enjoy this. But in that the more hair-free version of me is more attractive in her eyes, it is in my interest to put up with it.

Perhaps women are just more used to tweezing and plucking or maybe I am just a wuss, but plucking sure does sting. Our joke is that she always reacts to my whining with, “It doesn’t hurt.” This is in reference to a story I told her from my youth.

I attended the regally named Duke of York’s Royal Military School – a boarding school in Dover, England. For my first 20+ years of living in the US, I had rather assumed that this was an impressive fact, until I found out that, in this country, Military School is, historically, where misbehaving boys get sent. People must have thought I was strange for reveling in my obviously miscreant history!

Boys went to the DYRMS from ages 11-18. The school’s motto was “Sons of the brave” (since revised, as boys and girls now attend). To be a pupil, one’s father had to have served in the British Military and have gone up through the ranks vs. having entered via officer school. This applied to my father who lied about his age and joined the Kings Own Scottish Borderers at 15 and shortly thereafter found himself fighting on the northwest frontier (Afghanistan), followed by India/Burma, Palestine, Kenya, The Gold Coast (Ghana) and Cyprus. I’m surprised he survived so much war and uprising. The joke was always that my prowess on the track came from my father, who obviously must have been a very fast runner.

At school, we had a sanitorium. It was as much fun as it sounds. It was a 20-bed mini hospital, although for serious issues one would be dispatched down to a better equipped hospital in town. The doctor that worked there I don’t much remember, but the two Irish nun-nurses that worked there I will never forget.  

There was the beatific Sister Diagnan, a sweet middle-aged woman who one always hoped would be on duty if an ailment arose.  

Then there was Sister Gill. Sister Gill scared the bejeezus out of us. She may have been older than the school itself (founded in 1803). In every way that Sister Diagnan was sweet, Sister Gill was just plain mean. I think she thought that young boys were a barely necessary evil and any pain or illness we were suffering from was deservedly ordained.

One day, I found myself having to go to the san when the nail of my big-toe was badly mashed during a rugby match. Sister Gill examined it and grabbed a pair of tweezers, clamped them on and ripped my toenail completely off. As no surprise to anyone, except apparently her, I yelped very loudly. She fixed me with a cold gaze and said, “it didn’t hurt.” I remarked that I was in a profoundly better position to make that judgement and unfortunately dropped an expletive during my well-reasoned argument. That got me a violent ear-pull and detention.

My wife loves that story. And every time she has the opportunity to unmoor a clump of hair from my body, she sternly says, “It didn’t hurt.” Thus far, we remain married.

But, from time to time, I think of Sister Gill when a politician claims to speak for all Americans: “The American people want me to vacation in Cancun during snow emergencies!” Or when people just assume they know the reason behind other people’s behavior: “they’re stupid!” “they’re illegals!” “They went to military school!” – as long as they don’t have to go through the needlessly arduous task of actually asking the other person their opinion or the reasoning behind their beliefs.

Which reminds me: No one will deny that there are many reasons to dislike the Dallas Cowboys. My particular reason is their long-touted claim to be “America’s Team.” I root against the Atlanta Braves for the same reason. I am led to believe that there may be several hundreds of people in the US that do not even like NFL Football. Even if half of them are liars, that means that not all the US could possibly be for the Dallas Cowboys. (I mean really, I am no scholar of Aramaic, but I have it on good authority that the writing on the wall in the Bible, mene mene tekel upharsin, roughly translates to “Romo will break your heart.”)

I digress…

No-one speaks for everyone. If you find yourself even imagining that you “speak for the American people,” you are probably ten qualifying words shy of being close to any kind of reality. Words such as, “that I chatted with at my BBQ last Sunday.”

Because when we think or imagine that we talk for everyone or that we know what everyone is thinking, it means that we are almost assuredly ignoring huge swaths of people.

Instead of thinking you know what people want, try to find out. Listen to opposing arguments and assume that good, reasoned people hold each opinion, then ask yourself why.

Many good things happen when you cease saying or thinking that you speak for everyone. Primarily, of course, is that you no longer sound like a tool. But beyond that, once you know that no-one, including you, speaks for all, it encourages dialogue. It encourages the idea that there are many points of view and that most of them deserve respect and listening to.

Aristotle is quoted as saying, “A wise man speaks because he something to say. A fool speaks because he has to say something.”

What say you?

– Simon Dixon

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