BIG QUESTIONS LEAD TO SMALLER ONES

~ Posted by Rosie Blau, June 23rd 2014

Sometimes being an editor involves coming up with grand thoughts and wild ideas. Much of the time, though, we are thinking about commas, headlines and other matters that, if we get them right, the reader barely notices. Often it’s the smallest of these that provoke the greatest debate in the office.

It was a pronoun that whipped up a storm as the July/August issue of Intelligent Life went to press. In every edition we run a feature called “The Big Question”, in which we put a poser to six writers. This time the question was about how many children to have. But when it came to putting that question on the page, we had a hard time agreeing precisely how to phrase it: “How many children should you have?”, or “How many children should we have?”

Some of us preferred “you”, because it was simple, direct and reflected the personal nature of the question, but others thought it was too bossy—not the first time I have been so accused. They thought “we” was more inclusive and was a better way to introduce a feature whose answers ranged from the highly personal to the planet-saving universal.

A particular concern from the “we” camp was that the question might be offensive—to anyone who didn’t have children or couldn’t have children, for example. I countered that “we” assumed that children had two parents. However you ask it, I suspect the question will raise some hackles. This feature is designed to evoke strong feelings and strong views. Asking about children is an intensely personal issue, perhaps the most intimate question we have asked.

In the end we came up with a slightly untidy compromise: “we” on the cover, “you” inside. That probably means we succeeded in offending absolutely everyone. Sorry.