Thursday, June 17, 2010

Small People

British Petroleum Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, recently announced that BP cares about the "small people."  I cringed when I heard him say it - as much for him as for the "small people" on the Gulf Coast to whom he was referring.  I knew he would regret his choice of words.  The "small people" were offended, which is perfectly understandable.

Since I'm not as affected by the oil spill (yet) as those south of me, I'm able to give Mr. Svanberg the benefit of the doubt.  I'm not sure he meant to denigrate anybody.  Since he is Swedish, English is not his native language.  Maybe "small people" is a perfectly acceptable phrase in Sweden.  Maybe Mr. Svanberg doesn't understand that we Americans like everything to be big.  We're a big country.  We like big SUVs.  We like big football players.  We like super-size meals at fast food joints.

At the same time, we're very well aware that "small people" do exist.  In fact, most of us know that we are "small people" in the sense that we're not political leaders, multi-billionaires, powerful corporate executives, or universally recognized celebrities.  But we don't want to be called "small people."   It makes us feel - well, small.  

This leads me to a question - how can a powerful corporate executive like Mr. Svanberg, refer to "small people" without offending them?  After all, sometimes it really is necessary to make a distinction between big powerful people and "small people." 

Abraham Lincoln said, "God must love the common man, he made so many of them."  Did Abe say this with tongue in cheek?  I don't know, but I don't think I like being called "common" any more than I like being called "small."

The only other possible phrases that come to mind are "ordinary people" or "average people."  These are not as offensive as "small people," but they're not all that attractive either.  Maybe there's something in all of us that makes us want to be "exceptional people."

I'm interested in your opinion, Dear Reader.  If you're a "small person," what descriptive phrase do you prefer?  If you're Carl-Henric Svanberg - well, never mind.  I'm sure you have something more important to do.

No comments: