It’s a daycare world, and I’m excited!
Hello! I’d like to take this opportunity to greet you, and to thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to provide you with the opportunity to participate in my exciting journey to explore the learnings I’ve had the opportunity to gather over the course of participating in the exploration of the exciting experiences and challenges of the individuals who live, work and play in our diverse community! I’m so excited to have been provided with this unique opportunity, and I look forward to having the opportunity of journeying together and providing you with my carefully crafted thoughts on the issues that matter to all of us, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, sexual preference or language of origin, and providing you with an opportunity to provide me with your feedback, should you choose to take that opportunity, so that we can engage in a mutually rewarding exploration of our experiences and dialogue about our exciting new learnings and the challenges ahead in a meaningful and empowering way.
(Offstage: sounds of booger-shaped aliens being obliterated by laser cannons.) We sincerely apologize for the disruption. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.
As an editor, and as a longtime listener to the CBC, I encounter this sort of circuitous drivel (except for the bit about the aliens, which I thought was funny) pretty much every day of my life. Well-meaning and otherwise talented writers will hand me a 48-page document that I promptly weed-whack down to 15 simply by removing endless references to “providing opportunities to participate/explore/dialogue” and moronic jargon such as “low-hanging fruit” (really, are we chimps?), as well as endless repetitions of “person, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual preference.” Note to writers: chances are that if I don’t understand what you mean by “educator” (college professor? Driving instructor? Montessori teacher?) or “blue-sky session” then your audience won’t either. (Oh, and “impact” still isn’t a verb, but that’s for another day.)
CBC interviews now invariably begin with the guest declaring his or her “excitement” at having been “provided with the opportunity to participate” in the show at hand, and then meander carefully through a tangle of politically correct, excruciatingly inclusive jargon-bloated blather that sounds like the entire conversation was crafted by a 23-year-old media relations professional and vetted by a team of legal experts. More and more, I find myself standing in the kitchen, half-dressed, clutching a cup of coffee in one fist, bashing my radio with the other, foaming at the mouth and spluttering “Just… say… what… you… MEAN!!” as the cat speeds from the room in dismay.
About a month ago CBC Radio One was asking a bunch of small children (or “young learners”) how they felt about taking part in (or “having been provided with the opportunity to participate in”) some sort of children’s festival. One young subject, clearly coached by her careful Yuppie parents, replied uncertainly, “I’m really excited?” and then hadn’t a clue what to say next, once she’d rhymed off her politically correct, appropriately eager soundbite. She couldn’t have been more than four or five years old.
I also spend a good chunk of my working life listening to NASA broadcasts (don’t ask) and I finally blew my stack, as regards this whole issue, about two weeks ago when I heard one of their in-house announcers state enthusiastically that the crew of the next shuttle mission had been “provided with the opportunity to participate in launch training.” Excuse me, but “the opportunity“? Folks, this is the space program, peopled by some of the finest minds on Earth (OK, well, except for that Challenger thing, but never mind) and is it me or would training for a shuttle mission not be considered mandatory?
Are the NASA officials afraid that they might somehow offend the delicate sensibilities of their astronauts (extensively educated professionals with years of scientific, military and aviation training behind them) if they suggested that the trainees actually were required to do something, rather than just being given an opportunity to choose? Do they, in their wildest imaginings, think the shuttle crew, hurt and offended, would perhaps slap NASA with a series of lawsuits in the event that they felt they had not been provided with the opportunity to choose amongst a colourful array of mission-related options suited to their individual tastes and wants, and thus felt bullied, harassed and abused?
Or do NASA and other organizations simply want us, the choice-loving public, to believe that being a top-level astronaut (or a dentist, doctor, teacher, mine worker or pilot) is on a par with being in daycare, where nothing is ever mandatory, nothing ever “sucks,” and life is just a giddy carousel of super-fun “opportunities to participate” and endless ways to enhance one’s self-esteem?
Now, don’t misunderstand me here. Choice is good — just ask anyone who’s lived in the Soviet Union or Cuba. Positive, inclusive language is also mostly a good thing — gone are the days of “mankind” and most kinds of blatant discrimination, at least theoretically. (Sorry to all you folks in Alabama & the Middle East….)
And generally, an attention to decorum and the sensibilities of others is to be welcomed — my brother used to lean to one side and fart noisily at the supper table, while another in our clan was a loudmouth bigot whose eruptions caused bystanders to blanch in horror and cover their children’s ears. Adios to that sort of “self-expression” too.
But when we get so bogged down in trying to be nice, inclusive, non-offensive, non-authoritarian, non-anything-that-could-possibly-ever-now-or-in-the-future-be-interpreted-as-offensive-to-any-animate-creature-anywhere, well, then, we all end up sounding like my first paragraph: a bunch of sound bites signifying nothing. An ex of mine was famous for saying things like, “Do you think that maybe we might think about possibly considering maybe thinking about seeing a movie?” Now that I think of it, she also divided all people, places and things into just two categories: “fun” and “not fun.” I may be onto something here. (I was “not fun,” in case that isn’t obvious.)
Many years ago, the harpist Loreena McKennitt told a great story about how she and her crew were labouring to record a song that she’d done perfectly many times in rehearsal. But during the recording session, she kept tensing up, trying too hard and flubbing it. Finally, in near desperation, the recording engineer said, “OK, Loreena, let’s stop recording and you can do another practice run.” Of course, she then played the piece perfectly and of course afterward the engineer cackled and said he’d been recording it all along. A perfect take.
So let’s give this a try: how about we stop trying so hard to craft that perfect, non-offensive sound bite? I’m not saying “let it all hang out”; we have reality TV and family reunions for that. But for Pete’s sake, let’s everybody just take a deep breath, turn off the mikes, ditch the legal experts, the media-relations team and the jargon, and say what we really mean. Just once, from the heart.
And just to show that it can be done, I’ll go first: Eggplant.
See you in court.