We, Me, Them, It and Me
I started the day needing to write something about a book called We, Me, Them and It. This is my first week back after the new year break and ‘write the LinkedIn piece about the book’ was one item on a long list of to-dos. But it’s lunchtime now and I feel very different. The need has been replaced by a desire; a task has become a joy.
What’s changed? Well, I thought I’d better dip into the book briefly just to get into the writing mood and maybe pull out a few killer quotes. But I got hooked, just as this book has hooked me so many times before (which makes me sound like an old carp). I moved from my desk to a comfy chair by the wood burner – it’s so cold in Kent today – and just kept reading. And now I feel deeply and profoundly reconnected with everything it says.
If you don’t know We, Me, Them and It, it’s ostensibly a book about how organisations and brands can use language more effectively. But really, it’s about so much more than that. I find myself fumbling for a quote here to capture its essence, because I’m sure that its author, John Simmons, puts it much better than I could. But then again, one of the book’s main messages is that readers make their own meaning, and good writing allows that to happen. Or that’s the meaning I’m making of it now, sitting by my stove.
What did it mean to me, reading this book 20 years ago, when it was first published? At the time I was a business journalist. I used to laugh at the mangled, evasive, guff companies sent my way in their press releases and statements. I got frustrated when I interviewed business people and thought ‘you seem to have something interesting to say, but why can’t you just speak normally?’
When I left the newspaper world and started to freelance, some of those same organizations asked me to write things for them. I didn’t know what to do. Could I be honest, and tell them the way they treated words made me feel ill? I wanted to be helpful, and I needed to earn a living. And they seemed like nice people – with brains and hearts, ideas and emotions.
Until they put their words on paper. Then it all went wrong. It became boring and soulless and bland and fundamentally unreadable and painful and just such a waste of time. Could I do something about that? Could one sharp pencil and a determination to ‘show up’ as myself really make a difference?
It’s no exaggeration – or not much of one – to say that the ideas and attitudes I found in this book when I first read it 20 years ago paid for the house I’m sitting in now, the garden I’m looking out on, and the writing shed at the end of that garden, where I spend most of my working time helping organisations and people to use words better, running Dark Angels – which teaches John’s ideas to the wider world – and trying to gently nurture and deephttps://dark-angels.org.uk/en my own love of words.
So no, this isn’t just a brilliant, timeless book about business writing. To me, it’s a book about living a kind, generous, creative and productive life – by loving words and writing, and using them as best you can to connect with other people and yourself – not just in business but in life.
So, I’m not here to sell this book to you (although here’s the link). And I won’t try to talk you into joining a Dark Angels experience (but go on, you’d love it.) I don’t care if I’ve broken someone’s top 5 tips on how to write a winning LinkedIn post. I don’t care if I’ve risked personal vulnerability but talking about my feelings.
I just want to celebrate the existence of this book – and in its beautiful new edition! – and to say, John, thank you for writing it.
— Neil Baker