I previously wrote about weasel words — so there’s clearly a theme going on — but this time I want to skate the surface of another lexical horror story, namely meaningless words.

Mostly, but not exclusively, my gaze centres around the workplace but in general, what I’m trying to get at is the ooze that covers over words used to represent something that isn’t real, (often) isn’t true and isn’t anything in fact.

Where to even start…

Vision, values, (high-performance) culture, entrepreneurial, flexible, client-centred, ambitious, meritocratic environment, collaborative, working shoulder to shoulder, talent, careers, mission etc.

What’s wrong with them?

Everything.

What?

I’m deadly serious. Everything.

Now, of course, I’ve got no idea, standing on the sidelines shouting the odds, if these relate to any of or all of the companies where I’ve found these words but look at them for a minute…and what do you see? No substance, no relationship (they’re all essentialist I’d say) and no degree of honesty when set against all the other issues that beset a company in trying to find and hold on to people who are, I’d like to think, slowly, very slowly, wising up to the problems for humanity and what it means to work in a company that is, sadly, part of the problem and not the solution.

Let me try and put that a different way. There’s no substance to the words. They’re just words and unless you find yourself in a position where you can go behind the words and look at both their etymology (it’s an amazing experience to understand where the word(s) comes from and not just their vanilla, dictionary definition) and find actual examples of where they play out in the company (how you do that easily with culture and values escapes me), then it’s very likely that all you’re doing is working in the company for the money. I mean, if it were otherwise surely you’d be challenging your company hierarchy each and every day, calling them out on words that, even if aspirational, simply aren’t true.

You might think this none of this matters. It’s just a game and as long as the work is semi-interesting and you’re not working stupid hours for a mean-spirited boss, then who the hell cares if the words emblazoned across the website and being trotted out at every point across the financial year are misleading or inaccurate?

Quite. Who the hell does care?

But the problem, as they say, is the problem. Meaning? Well, for me, I’ve got (in case you hadn’t noticed) a bee in my bonnet about the amount of greenwashing that’s spewing forth right now and that seems to be another extension of the meaningless words point. And for the record, I’m not saying that the offending companies aren’t doing something to ameliorate their impact on the planet, but does anyone believe it when everything else is so ephemeral and/or vague? Ditto company reports? Ditto company manifestos?

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m just down on companies. I no longer believe in them both from the employee’s perspective but also their ability to save the world. You see, as the numbers will demonstrate, it’s the company entity — a legal fiction — that’s responsible for or at least the apex of the destruction of the planet across the aeons. And of course the company has been so ably aided and abetted by the money men — yes, it’s mostly been egotistical men that have wanted a return on their investment without any or very little regard for the environmental consequences.

Apropos of my finger-wagging at meaningless words, am I expecting anything to change? Don’t be daft. No one cares. We’ll carry on trotting out these vacuous words until the end of time or at least until the point where someone — god knows who what will be — starts to question where a company is headed with a brilliant vision statement absent a life-supporting planet on which to ply its trade.

Onwards dear readers.

Blessings,

— Julian

Spiritual and cultural activist