I once got into an argument with a friend. It pretty much ended our friendship. Well, there was more to it than that, but the argument was indicative of the differences between us that we would never get past. The subject of the fateful disagreement was business.
You see, I maintained that “business” encompassed a level of “lying, cheating, and stealing” that I was uncomfortable with. He was offended by that statement. And as I pulled out example after example of “lying, cheating, and stealing”, he would respond, “That’s just business!” and I would fire back, “That’s my point!” and he’d argue it wasn’t lying or cheating or stealing, and I’d argue it was but he was just comfortable with the accepted level present in most business.
Ultimately, what he didn’t like were the words that I chose to describe the actions. Face it, most of the time marketing IS lying, or at least bending the truth, or hiding it. No company puts out a commercial that says “You don’t need our product, and you probably don’t even want it, but we would appreciate it if you would buy it anyway!” Nope. They are going to show you people having fun using the product and then ask, in some way or another, “Don’t you like fun?”
And as a software developer for a couple decades, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to “steal”. Though, it usually comes out as “Hey, one of our competitors has this thing. Can we do that thing? Can you make it look like their thing? Can it function exactly like their thing?” Not to mention the times someone has asked me to “just pull some images off Google” to put into a product that they are going to charge money for. And all the times dealing with customers when our product was broken, but being told by management to blame other things, like their internet connection, or their web browser, even though I knew full well what the problem was, it was us, and we’d get it fixed as soon as possible, but for liability purposes we had to say “It’s not me, maybe it’s you.”
Anyway, I think back on that argument and it still bothers me. Probably more so now than then. In the intervening years it has gotten worse in a lot of ways. And the current administration’s efforts to repeal protections and roll back regulations doesn’t help. We’ve recently had rashes of incidents where restaurants all over town have posted notices about certain items not being available because of the e.coli outbreak in romaine lettuce, which happened because the regulations regarding testing of waste/irrigation water were rolled back. So some cattle got e.coli, which was in their feces, which got into the water, which wasn’t tested and used to irrigate the lettuce, and we get e.coli contaminated lettuce. Meanwhile, there is a vaccine, which can be administered to the cattle to get the e.coli at the source – but it doesn’t improve the health of the cattle or the quality of the meat they produce, so it’s almost impossible to get the ranchers to spend money on it. And I won’t even get into how the current government shutdown and the FDA curtailing food testing is going to affect things.
And I think about how the media has clear simple examples of our president lying, but they don’t call it lies. They instead say something like “the words contains less than truthful statements” because they are afraid to call the lie a lie. Some outlets are getting better about this, but not enough.
I know some people feel that using such bold, plain language is antagonistic, or rude. But we’ve got a president who literally calls people names on twitter. He’s also a man who has been coddled and surround by yes-men all his life. What he needs – really, what we all need – is bold, plain language.