disempowering language

maybe it’s the context that my life moves in, but it irks me often enough to notice announcements, or calls for volunteers or signups, where the phrase, “if you’re interested“, is added to the wording.. it’s such deflating, weakening language.. takes any lift out of the sails.. you don’t hear NetFlix or Starbucks or Coca-Cola or Brand X making their announcements with the little introductory “if you’re interested”.. you hear: buy! you want this! space is limited! hurry! act now! Just do it! It’s an active voice! If someone doesn’t want to do something, or isn’t interested, they can make their own decision.

lately, I’ve enjoyed several conversations to talk about ideas and possibilities and dreams with no boundaries.. it’s been so invigorating.. I’m starting to get the connection between ideas and the possibility of turning them into reality through possibly fleshing out a project, starting a business, joining a organization.. it’s the thrill of seeing an idea come into existence, more than the action-oriented doingness of it, that excites me.. it’s that creative process ex nihilo.. now with my technology and theology background, I’m missing a big piece of economic / financial feasibility, so my desire to see things happen or a new business startup has a big vulnerability b/c most of me doesn’t care about how much money it might make (as the typical businessman would be into making money), but for me, it’s seeing new business services come into being that gets my imaginative juices flowing.. and that’s about all I can say about them, lest my ideas get taken by somebody else 🙂

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  1. Tim says:

    You’re right, such phrases don’t belong in the mouth of any self-repecting person. Using the passive voice also is weak, but it’s everywhere man, just everywhere.

  2. scott hodge says:

    good thoughts here… i agree with you on the timidity by which we approach people when we need to recruit them or engage them in action. (especially in the church world…) it seems to me that the more we challenge people to “step up” to the plate and make a difference the more boldly they will do it and in turn truly feel like they are making a difference.

  3. Ted says:

    very good!

    interesting enough, we almost undo the passion and resolve behind the “big ask” when we disempower them by saying, “if you’re interested.”
    what happens is it might:
    1. cause people to shy away from something so unenthusiastic, unsure, weak, passionless…
    2. cause people that do sign up to be passive in their volunteering…maybe that’s why some volunteers do a half-baked job (which they wouldn’t do at their own work); because we offer it in a half-baked way.

    very good article!!! empower people by the words we use!

  4. Imei says:

    No kidding!

    Just watched the Peter Jennings piece, “How to Get Fat without Really Trying.” Of the thousands of new food products being marketed, not a one of them says, “Buy this chocolate cereal, if you are interested”. No, they enlist fat children to sit in a room with a pleasant lady while men sit behind a one way mirror, observing the children when they say, “I want this cereal.” No passive language there.

    If I ever told one of my clients in the psychotherapy office, “Try this technique on your spouse…if you’re interested”, he’d look at me as if my head was screwed on backwards! Instead, it’s expected that I tell the client, “You need to do X, and quick, if you don’t want to risk losing Y”, and then let the client decide for himself if he’s going to do X.

    Maybe what we’re barking at is the last of the politeness, the tentativeness, the geisha-ness of speech that I associate with Ovaltine.

    As for the joy of seeing business ideas come into being without being able to predict the financial outcomes… gee, how much art/books written/songs sung, etc., would have been done if only those that made money were actually produced? Birthing a good business that makes a difference is like creating art — lots of anticipation, plenty of uncertainty, pour in faith and belief and good old fashioned enthusiasm, add risk, moments of despair and wah-lah!

    Anne Lamott reminds writers to not share their ideas too early, lest someone pour discouragement on it in those early stages. Incubate your idea in a safe environment. If it was “meant to be”, our God and His Universe has a strange way of meeting you right when your idea needs to be shared with the world.

  5. Bert says:

    Hey DJ, I agree totally. That kind of language is a built-in cop-out. They basically can pump their sign/ad/whatever and say. “Hey, I tried my best.” It’s kind of ironic that you used a couple of those phases in your post though. (not to pick on you of course, but “possibly fleshing” and “lest my ideas get taken…”

    As for business ideas, you’ve always been a good sounding board for some ideas. Money isn’t necessary but fulfillment is a must. Success seams to be the ultimate rush, but it means that much more when it was your creation.

    Oh yeah, Boba in NC may work somewhat (AH HAH! <– weak language.) I will have to see the results when I come back for x-mas.

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