There was a carousel in the town I grew up in that held a special attraction for me as a kid. It was originally built in 1909 and had beautifully carved wooden horses big enough that they could create the illusion of really riding. But in addition to that, the ride purveyors had added a chute of rings that riders on outside horses could reach. When the carousel got up to its highest speed, the chute was extended, and it was a special mark of growing up when I became big enough to reach out and grab a ring. Mixed in with the regular rings was one golden ring. Anyone who grabbed the golden ring, got a free ride on the carousel.
So the fun on the carousel was not only the riding of the horses but also the allure of the ring grab. In addition to all that amazing fun, there was a garbage goat next to the carousel building. Crafted as a pretty good-looking sculpture of a goat, it had suction so that if you hit the button to turn it on, it would inhale your garbage. C’mon, is there anything more fun than that? And the goat experience was free!
This past weekend I had the chance to travel back to my childhood town and take my kids to both ride the carousel and see the garbage goat. When I posted a picture on Instagram of my eight-year-old daughter reaching out for a ring, I noticed that I slipped into Universal You language in the caption,
“There’s a special kind of joy watching your kids enjoy something you loved as a kid.”
I first heard the idea of the “universal you” language described in a Ten Percent Happier podcast. In one of the examples provided by Professor of Neuroscience, Anil Seth, it was of an athlete doing a post-game locker room interview.
“You’ll often hear them say things like. ‘When you miss a shot, you don’t know what to do. You just gotta go on.’ You stop and think about what they’ve just said and it’s a little puzzling. They used the word ‘you’ that we typically use to refer to other people – they are using it to refer to their own flub. We call it the universal you and it’s another way that we use language to make meaning. It gives us some space.”Anil Seth – Ten Percent Happier
He goes on to explain it in terms of writing,
“There’s a really comfort that comes from normalizing your experience in that way. And you often see this happening over the course of expressive writing. They start off in ‘I’ mode and then as they build their stories, they shift into referring their experiences in the universal terms.”Anil Seth – Ten Percent happier
What resonates for me in what Anil Seth says is both our ability to use language to make meaning and how the stories we tell as writers help us to do that. I relate to unconsciously shifting into the universal you mode as I work to understand my experience. The way I’ve heard the writing mantra is that the more specific you get in writing your experience, the more universal it is. An oxymoron that’s proven out again and again as we write personal narratives.
Like the carousel. There was so much delight on my kid’s faces, I could actually touch again the memory of doing the same activity as a child. “There’s a special kind of joy watching your kids enjoy something you loved as a kid.” I think it was worthy of a universal you, don’t you?
I’ve published a companion post about the miles we travel together on my personal blog: The Next 100,000 Miles
I also post on Mondays at the Heart of the Matter blog, a great shared blog of personal storytelling. My book about my journey to find what fueled my dad’s indelible spark and twinkle can be found on Amazon: Finding My Father’s Faith.
You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon
(featured photo from Pexels)