By Dave Griffiths
Hello again. Today’s topics: mindless disrespect for our mother tongue; a VA that’s come a long way; and American entrepreneurial spirit at its best (if a bit “adult”).
“Circle back when you find the bandwidth in your schedule, and we’ll discuss the synergies that can leverage our shovel-ready plan, because at the end of the day, it’s all about drilling down and creating robust solutions that achieve time-sensitive, client-oriented, transparent results, taking us to the next level.”
Then and only then, may I add, will we be well positioned for—wait for it—“going forward.”
I have a question: is there any other direction we can take? Or can we indeed go backwards? For that matter, can we stay right here in the present in some sort of stasis that gains us absolutely nothing? Would you agree that anything other than moving second by second, minute by minute, into the future belongs in a “Twilight Zone” episode?
I wouldn’t mind if I heard the mindless “going forward” only from sportscasters and the jocks they cover. But how did it creep into business communications? Why do we keep seeing it on consultants’ websites and hear it from Armani-clad “experts” on cable TV? I don’t have an answer. It’s mystifying. Why do we find such comfort and security in reflexive, silly imitation?
Same goes for past history or past experience. In its noun clothing, the word “experience” has come down to us through the ages as a term that, in a certain context, has unambiguous meaning. Why is that not good enough? I just don’t get it.
(By the way, if you’ve been visited by “future experience” or “future history” visions that proved to be accurate, the two of us should stop by Maine’s county fairs where we can bet on the standard-bred horses that pull those delicate-looking sulkies around the harness-racing tracks. I figure that by the time the Fryeburg Fair rolls around, we can retire on our earnings.)
Next, I’ve been teaching writing courses at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers all over the country, and it’s gratifying to see how communications skills have helped turn around the public image of what were often reviled institutions. I’ll admit here that, being a vet myself, we can be overly whiny at times. But there’s no changing the impression that VA hospitals not too many years ago were viewed as the health care of last resort.
Now, when I ask my class participants to write about their jobs as if they were addressing a non-specialist (the goal is “plain language,” as defined by a much-needed new federal law), they often get right to the point about “caring for America’s heroes” or making their hospital the veterans’ “health care of choice,” instead of indulging selfishly in long-winded and bureaucratic descriptions.
And to hear my students—clinicians, chaplains, social workers, HR types, etc.—tell it, VA hospitals are a great place to work, which is welcome news for millions of veterans.
Finally, out in Dallas a few weeks ago, I was driving to and from the classroom when I spotted a neon sign on a store with letters large enough to be read from the expressway. On my first trip, the words barely registered because they seemed so out of place. The next day, I slowed down and, yep, there they were: “Condoms To Go.”
Whoa, I thought. As we used to say in the 1960s and ’70s, “Is this a great country or what?” Still, the store’s name begs the question: “Of course they’re ‘to go.’ What else are you going to do—use them on the premises?”
It gets better. The third day, I slowed way down and took a closer look at the one-story brick building.
On the side was a drive-up window.
Dave Griffiths is a free-lance writer and editor who teaches writing and media relations and presentation skills to businesses, government agencies and nonprofits all over the United States. He lives in Mechanic Falls and can be reached at 345-9835 or firstname.lastname@example.org.