First Person: More Intimate & Less Vulnerable

I had a conversation with a friend just now, and we went into the topic of talking in a generalized and abstract way versus a personal way.

When we talk in a generalized way, we speak as if what we are saying are general rules. It makes the impression that what we are saying is true for all people, everywhere, in all instances. And this naturally triggers a search for exceptions in the listener’s mind. The way we are talking is not aligned with reality. It is lost in a world of generalizations and abstractions, and this can easily – and justifiably – be shot down. I say “advaita people are stuck in cold-heartedness” and you say “no, that is not true at all! you are full of %**!”.

When I talked from personal experience, and don’t try to overgeneralize or make it into a rule, it is different. Here, it is completely personal. It is completely aligned with reality and experience (to the extent I am sincere about it). Others cannot argue with it, although they can offer their experience in return, which is unique to them and therefore a little – or a lot – different.

I say “in my experience with advaita, it seems to focus on clear seeing and maybe leave out the heart aspect”. And you say “that is interesting to hear. My experience is quite different. I had a strong heart opening through advaita practices, and know others who experienced the same.” And from here we can explore the real complexity of the situation, the real meat of it in all its richness. We can go beyond an arguing about overgeneralizations and abstractions, and into a mutual exploration of the various experiences on the topic. (Of course, there is just a separation in degrees here. It is all abstractions when it comes down to it. But it also makes a difference.)

Effects of first vs. second/third person

To me, it seems that speaking in second on third person is an attempt at removing it from the personal and thus make it more “safe”. It may also be an attempt at making it sound more “scientific”.

But both is a mistake. Speaking in second or third person tends to get people searching for exceptions, disagree with us, and want to shoot down what we just said. And if it is not aligned with the listener’s experiences, there is an even stronger – and often emotional – reaction. Neither of these are very “safe” in a social/emotional sense. Rather than creating a safe space for ourselves, we set ourselves up for attack. We place ourselves in a weak position. Speaking from second and third person is less personal and more vulnerable.

When I speak from first person, it is obviously unique to me and cannot really be argued about. And others are free and invited to share their unique experiences. If it happens to be true to them as well, then they are more likely to experience it as their discovery rather than an imposition.

Speaking from first person is more intimate, because I reveal myself as I am. And it is at the same time less vulnerable, as it is not open to attack in the same way as second and third person language.

Alignment & release from suffering

This is just another example of the realtionship between alignment with what is and suffering.

When I am out of alignment with what is – through trying to overgeneralize in second or third person – I place myself in a vulnerable situation. I am open for attack, and I suddenly have something to protect. This brings up stress and some forms of suffering.

When I align myself more closely with what is – by speaking from first person – there is nothing to protect, and there is less stress and suffering.

My case

I notice that my tendency when speaking with people is to speak from first person, both in words and (I hope) tone.

But my language tends to get more formal and second/third person-like when I write. Sometimes, the tone may be second/third person, even while the words are first person…! The surface is first person, the atmosphere and depth is second/third person.

There is a subtle violence in this. First, there is a violence towards myself – my own experience. I am overgeneralizing from something that is really quite personal and unique. Then, there is a violence towards anyone who may happen to read it, as the words is an attempt to hit them over the head with generalizations – which may or may not fit their experiences.

Simple version

Saying all this can be quite simple and personal as well.

I notice that when I speak from second and third person, there is a discomfort that comes up from knowing that I am overgeneralizing. And there is also a discomfort from knowing that other peope may get triggered and argue with what I just said. I am setting myself up for attack, and set my words up for being shot down. I may try to protect myself by talking in abstractions and making it less personal that way, but I find that I am really making it less personal, and myself more vulnerable. Even if none of these happen and others agree, there is a further discomfort from now being lost in a conversation of second/third person abstractions and generalizations. After a while, it feels empty and bloodless.

When I speak from first person, it is all aligned with what is. Others cannot really argue with it, but they are invited to share their own first person experiences. And in this sharing of first person experiences, there is a great deal of juice and aliveness. I speak in a more intimate way, find a more intimate connection with others, and am less vulnerable.


The other side of all this is of course inclusion. If we are always lost in unique first person experiences, we get nowhere. So there is a place for generalizations, although it is important to know what to include in these generalizations – and make explicit what is excluded.

We may say that something appears true for the experiences of most people who engage in a certain mediation practice daily over several years, but also aknowledge that this is not true for all who do so, and is not neccesarily true for other practices – even those quite similar.

We can generalize and still leave the door open for unique and different cases, and this is of course the way of western science as well.

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