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The Power of our Words| We,They–Us, Them

US verses THEM

The Power of our Words

This is part 3 of a series on classic concepts to understand Normalization and Inclusion.

The first was Norm Kunc| A Credo of Support

The second was about The difference between the words “Disability” and “Handicapped.”

Mayer Shevin wrote this classic poem. I’m hoping you’ll add your thoughts in the comments.

“The Language of Us and Them”

By Mayer Shevin, 1987.

We like things.
They fixate on objects.

We try to make friends.
They display attention-seeking behaviors.

We take a break.
They display off-task behavior.

We stand up for ourselves.
They are non-compliant.

We have hobbies.
They self-stim.

We choose our friends wisely.
They display poor peer socialization.

We persevere.
They perseverate.

We love people.
They have dependencies on people.

We go for walks.
They run away.

We insist.
They tantrum.

We change our minds.
They are disoriented and have short attention spans.

We are talented.
They have splinter skills.

We are human.
They are…….?

What do you think?

Okay, truth time.

Have you ever used any of these phrases?

Are we really different?

Is there a legitimate reason for the We verses They? the Us and Them ways of thinking?

Are these words:

more than just semantics
more than about insiders/outsiders
more than prejudice
more than stereotyping…

and everything about survival, inclusion and being loved.

Thought Experiment

In Erving Goffman’s classic book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963) he talks about social stigma and how words like we/us and they/them are ways we separate and distance ourselves from other people and what is happening.

Check out this recent article about abuse, neglect and budget cuts in an institution in California.
California Watch slams State Institution | Neglect, Weak Oversight.

How do we decide if we will get involved or distance ourselves?

What makes us care, not care?

Think about how the social stigma of we, us, they and them affects adults with autism and developmental disabilities.

Think about how social stigma affects our decisions.

If you have a son or daughter, a relative or neighbor in this institution, then this story is about “us and we”–it touches our lives.

If you care about people with disabilities, this story is also about “us and we” because the next story may affect our loved one.

I hope you will share some of your thoughts and continue the discussion in the comments.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,


Related Posts

The Yet-To-Be Disabled.

Socially Constructed Attitudes| What do you see?

Test Questions| Segregation or Inclusion?

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9 Responses to “The Power of our Words| We,They–Us, Them”

  • Destany Atkinson says:

    I was always taught not to exclude anyone-no matter what the basis of this was- even at a young age so I think that this mindset has shaped my language because I have no recollection of referencing people as “them” vs “us” in terms of generalized groups of people. I think if someone wasn’t used to it though, it could be a very easy thing to let slip through and is probably not easy to stop. I think it is great that families are so passionate about something that could seem so small but in the end makes a huge difference.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Us and Them are tricky. Destany, it’s great you have been aware of this because it is a difficult concept to understand… and change. 🙂

  • Kara Detty says:

    Reading how passionate parents, friends, neighbors, community members, or advocates are for the same privileges and rights across the spectrum just demonstrates how far along humankind has come. However, just like Professor Ulrich mentioned in class earlier today, mankind still has a long way to go before they can truly be non-prejudice against individuals with exceptionalities. I personally am supportive of the movement that still needs to made, but it has to start within ourselves; you must make the movement to say “we” instead of “you” and we must view ourselves as no different. Yes, there are events that can make you feel empowered but this is not one of those events. As a student & a fellow citizen I really hope we can find the eye awakening we need to unite completely as a nation & a globe to make a change.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You are right Kara, it is up to each of us to do what we can–one step at a time.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI Kara,
      It’s a big job to change the world. But you are right that we can each do our part. “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” And WE are all part of WE.

  • Carol says:

    I always laugh that my things are stuff. Thus: I will clean up my stuff. You can clean up your sh**.

    It is important to have words that differentiate. We also need words that reflect civility. Most of all, we need words that promote clarity.

    Context and personal perspective will reveal what is meant. One can proceed from there to comment with context and personal perspective.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks for your comment Carol. I know you always cared about language.

      You are right Carol, context and personal perspective provide clarity in our language. Our culture is full of “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.”

      One of the things I like about Mayer’s poem is that he helps me see a new layer of discourse. And hopefully that will make me a better listener and person.

  • Well, it’s true. I have used ‘We’ and ‘They,’ ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’ Not necessarily in this context but when describing people who have hurt me. I separate me and them in this way. I don’t identify with them and god forbid, I behave like they do.
    Alison Golden recently posted..5 Inspiring and Unconventional Personal Development Blogs You Should Read

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      The only good thing about feeling guilty about how I have used words in the past, is I try to think it is all part of the learning curve. Now, I can try to be more sensitive to the other person’s perspective.

      Thanks for adding your voice Alison. 🙂

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