I see that the words are in English, but they make no sense.

I attended an event recently. I'm not going to tell you too much about it, other than it was a kind of public awareness humanities social justice thing. I'm not looking to make specific trouble for a specific group.

I am, however, going to make some vague trouble.

Words matter. Much of the book I wrote about the pipeline protest a few years ago dwelt on the use (and misuse) of words and how that played into emotions and public understanding of what was really happening. Whether on purpose or not, we've continued to develop and perfect the ability of using a lot of words to say nothing. We're obsessed with concepts of narrative, story, and conversation, but I'm not sure why. We seem to have perfected abilities that are going to get in the way of successfully carrying any of that out.

So I'm at this local event, reading the single-fold program they provided that listed folks involved, waiting for the shindig to get started.

John Doe is the Senior Program Director for the ______ Council. The _______ Council is a nonprofit organization that facilitates custom-designed processes that enable diverse viewpoints to come together to seek common ground at the local to international levels. We provide consensus decision-making process facilitation; convening and inter-meeting diplomacy; convening organization, logistics, documentation; decision-implementation follow up; strategic and succession planning, and grantmaking as the North Dakota intermediary organization for the Bush Foundation's Community Innovation Grants.

Doe has experience in grassroots organizing, strategic planning, organizing assessments, legislative and public policy initiatives, campaign planning and evaluation, meeting facilitation and design, media outreach, and training and coaching.

I turned to my friend, pointing at the discombobulated words on the paper. "Here we have a splendid specimen of many words and zero meaning. There is not one person in this room who knows what this means, including the guy it's describing."

We had about 15 minutes to wait for the event to start, so we got in a few snarky riffs on the ludicrous nature of the language so often seen in the programs at humanities events. Sometimes I read the magazine First Things, and while it's often over my head and I often get to the end of an article and think I may not have deserved my high school diploma, the words are tight and have specific purpose to a meaningful end. In other words, I'm not against big words and complex sentences. I'm against language vomit that excels in vagueness so as to say nothing that offends which means, ultimately, that you say nothing.

I decided to amuse myself in the various ways a guy could translate these paragraphs.
  • We help people compromise.
  • We take grants to help people compromise.
  • We take grants to help people compromise, and we'll even run the meetings for you.
  • We make sure the meetings we create for people are actually suited to their specific interests.
  • If there are people who don't get along, we'll find the few things they have in common, fill out a grant form, and call it a successful day.
  • I don't know how to weld or do taxes, so I set up meetings.
It's not difficult to generate memes, riffs, and crap poetry directed at industries and realms that swear allegiance to communication but couldn't order a burger at McDonald's without using the words synergy, hack, or facilitation, and couldn't pay for it without an initial round of venture funding or a fresh round of grant funding from the Bush Foundation.

In my years in the startup/content marketing world, I wrote copy (to the tune of thousands of blog posts) and grew to both excel and loathe the obfuscation that seemed to be required. When writing copy for marketing blog posts, for example, you couldn't just say "people do stupid things online and get confused easily, so make the important button you want them to click a bright, contrasting color", but instead, had to say something like "for successful conversions, you must facilitate your user's diverse inclinations through the use of consolidated open data gathering, as well as to engage potential customers at the top of the sales funnel in authentic conversations, to reveal a transparent tendency" or something as equally awful.

I can't even write a good fake one anymore, it's so awful to revisit that era in my life.

So for all the people sitting in the audience waiting for this event to start, did they wonder about this bio? Did they feel stupid that they didn't really know what it said, assuming the rest of the people were fine with it? Did they, like me, read it and think "so the guy lives off of grant money and sets up meetings for people who don't get along but have a useful agenda for more grant money" and roll their eyes?

I guess I'm old fashioned, but I want to see a listing of skills and experience that is a bit more concrete and meaningful.

John is a farmer vs. John esteems the rural landscape and encourages plant articulation from the ground.

John helps groups set up meetings vs. John convenes various parties and facilitates their ability to have a conversation using inter-meeting diplomacy to make sure everyone wins and no one wins.

John is good at arbitration vs. John gathers conflicting parties with dissimilar outlooks and deigns to help them achieve solid footing on common ground.

Good grief. I actually hope that the reason for such a convoluted biography was because there was extra white space in the program, but if that's the case, just put some clip art in the program and shorten things up. Do everyone a favor. Make it a photo of some LOL cats and we all win.