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"THEY say the price of gasoline will go up. THEY say it will come down.

"THEY say that it's going to rain. THEY say it's not going to rain."THEY say it's going to be a hot summer. THEY say it's going to be the coolest summer since '98.

"THEY say the Democrats will pick up 30 seats in the House in the next election. THEY also say the Republicans will win by a landslide.

"THEY are the world's greatest authority, the most vocal majority in the world. Yet nobody knows who THEY are."

So says Mary Z. Gray, author of the book "Ah, Bewilderness." Gray admits to being confused because, not only are the THEYs of this world anonymous, THEY always seem to be contradicting each other. What's more, THEY seem to be experts in everything:

"THEY say that if you go by air you can get there faster." "THEY say that if an appendix ruptures, you can get real sick." "THEY say they're not wearing that style anymore." "THEY say the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

"Who are THEY?" Gray asks. "Some secret source of inside information? Some majestic tribunal judging all things, passing down edicts on matters `they' know nothing about, acting as self-appointed final arbiter on morals, manners, grammar?"

Says she: "I confess that I had trusted the authority of `they' for many years until my little girl, a freethinker, questioned the omnipotence of whoever determined the rules of grammar and language. `Me and Roger . . . ,' she had started to say before I interrupted her with a correction, `Roger and I.' "

My tiny preschooler pursed her lips, stared at me, and then questioned: "Who says I have to say, `Roger and I?' Why can't I say, `Me and Roger?' "

"Because it's wrong. There are rules for the right way to say things."

"Who makes them up? Where are these people? I'd like to meet them," she said very seriously.

"I'd never thought of it that way before," observes Gray. "That's the spirit we should all cultivate. It would save us from being taken in by THEY and their fool sayings, or their arbitrary rules for what's right or wrong, `in' or `out.' "

Astute point! So how could this discussion of the THEYs apply to your life?

-Most people's lives are governed extensively by internalized pronouncements and edicts from "tribunals" whose members are nameless and faceless. The THEYs lurk in the background, never identifying themselves, yet they can profoundly affect your behavior. For example:

- You may act as if there is only one acceptable mode of dress and follow the dictates of fashion (what THEY say) so you can fit in.

- You may become uncomfortable when things are out of order (THEY say "A place for everything and everything in it's place").

- You may limit yourself to traditional gender roles in your primary relationships because THEY say things like "Men take out the garbage; women do the dishes."

- You may walk into a room and worry about what THEY are thinking about you.

- You may follow certain traditions and rules simply because they are established - not because they make sense or are useful.

- You may deny yourself the good things in life - roses, facials or whatever - because THEY say if you do something for yourself you're being selfish.

- You may apologize excessively for almost everything or constantly think you need to explain yourself because THEY might think you did something wrong.

Following the vague edicts of the THEYs of this world comes from not having a good sense of what you WANT, and WISH FOR, and NEED. From not believing you are complete enough to do your own thinking. And from not believing that you are entitled to make choices for yourself.

-You don't need hundreds of vague authorities in your life to tell you what to do. You need to trust your own judgment. You are in charge. You need to make the decisions. You have a right - perhaps even an obligation - to make those decisions for yourself.

-When you think THEY, try to attach names and faces to these people. Ask yourself, "Who am I trying to please?" "Who am I allowing to have power over me?" "Whose edict am I following without doing my own thinking?"

-Test out how YOU feel by replacing THEY with I. "I (feel) (think) (want) (wish) (believe) (value) (choose). . . ."

If the fit is good between the judgment of others and how you REALLY feel inside, you'll know it and you can embrace that judgment as your own. If not, you can discard the judgment and search further to discover or develop your own position.

-If you're going to use the THEYs, use them to your advantage. As one woman put it, "If you can look far enough, you can always find a THEY SAY that matches exactly with what YOU want to do!"