I wonder, has war ever broken out simultaneous to an Olympics opening ceremony before this year? Yeah, knowing humans, probably so.
But it’s somehow fitting that it should happen this year, when this international event of intended goodwill is hosted by a regime that is using it to showcase how glorious and not-all-that-abusive-really it is. The state of the commercialized, regime-exhibit Olympics today doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the prospects of our little human community as we allow anonymously guided corporations to become evermore influential non-state actors.
I’m not sure if I’ll tune into the Georgia-Russia war though. On paper, it looks entertaining, but I’m not sure my psyche has room to digest it at this time.
Um, yeaah, I’m gonna need you
to go ahead and work tomorrow…
Meanwhile, in other theaters of conflict, my department has been thrown into another less-than-ideal office move. As usual, the mechanics of this move have been handled in a way that, one might suppose, does not appear in most internal communications textbooks.
The announcement has been met by the lifers with the usual assortment of outrage, heartache, and battered-victim syndrome acceptance. Without going into details, logic indicates that, in the covert planning phase, certain things were not considered while other things were mistakenly assumed. There is a general feeling that The Deciders — people who measure human life in terms of square-footage occupied — do not actually know what the affected worker bees do. It is possible that this feeling was intensified by the fact that such Deciders have not, in fact, seen what said worker bees do.
Creating the sensation that one’s fate is determined by arbitrary, unseen forces is seldom advised in the employer-employee relationship. Historically speaking, such a sensation tends to lead humans to either religion or revolt (whether through active rebellion or lethargic non-compliance) — neither of which is desired, me thinks, by the unseen forces pulling the strings.
But the point of my vignette is this: Out of office conflict comes hilariously passive organizational speak. We subjects collected a list of office arrangement “demands” and offered them up for sacrifice to the unseen forces. The point-by-point response — divinely authored by the unseen gods themselves — included several repetitions of this doozie:
“No proposed action to be taken at this time.”
As in: Item — Parking lot lacks adequate lighting.
Response: No proposed action to be taken at this time.
The first rule of Unseen Forces-speak is the passive voice: It’s important to ascribe no person or identifiable actor as the actual “decider” or maker of decisions. Just as the legal shelter of a corporation protects incompetent or fraudulent C-executives from the liability of their actions (instead it falls on the retirement accounts of the shareholders who unwittingly paid their salaries and golden parachutes), so the passive voice of organizational speak protects anyone from actually being identified with the decisions they’ve made.
e.g., “The department has been moved.” These positions have been eliminated. This benefit has been reduced. Headquarters have been relocated to a city that, shock, shock!, is closer to the CEO’s home. And so forth.
The second, closely related rule is to speak in the sort of infinite wisdom voice of philosophy or scripture: “Roles will evolve as conditions change.” Interruptions in power are to be expected. An agreement has been reached. Her decision to spend more time with family is respected.
The third rule is to add phrases like “at this time,” which create an air of uncertainty and help mitigate the sudden finality of The Decision. Like an ambiguous song lyric, this tactic has the added benefit of letting the interpretation vary according to the paranoia of the receiver:
For the hopeful, “at this time” can mean your request may eventually be met, even if there are no plans to meet it, um, at this time. Similarly, I have no plans to inherit a fortune at this time. For the cynic, “at this time” can subtly suggest that you better be happy with what you get, because as you have seen, eventually it will change yet again for the worse. Likewise, I have no plans to rapidly decline in health at this time.
Meanwhile, the Unseen Forces use “at this time” as a stopgap to help achieve the short-term goal: Get the decision implemented first, then see how they like it, how they adapt, and whether any further arrangements are actually necessary. Once they’ve moved and their status quo has changed, you have the hard part down: Possession, or location in this case, is 9/10 of the law.
In our case, the move is also labeled “temporary,” a nice way of inspiring hope and pretending hardship won’t last. Nevermind that the temporary term is undefined and floating, and subject to the successful execution of plans by Unseen Forces whose ability to execute a plan is highly questionable. The point is that the relocation is — like life, regimes, and solar systems — temporary.
Finally, for a writer who values communicating actual meaning over communicating, oh I don’t know, horse feces maybe, it’s a truly exquisite touch to remove the actual verb, passive though it may be, from the sentence. Sure there’s “to be” in “No action to be taken at this time.” But by leaving out “is,” it sends that extra special message of intentional distance. It’s a love note, really, that says: “Peasant, we Unseens are so removed from this decision, we don’t even know what tense it’s in.”
Anyway, I’m sure further amusing organization-speak will come out of this process. But this latest gem is so tickling to me, I’m tempted to adopt it as my response next time I receive an assignment:
“Thank you for your request. No proposed action is to be taken at this time.”