Words are anything but innocuous. They are perhaps one of the most powerful tools we have. They are deceiving, though, because their power is so subtle. Magicians know of their power, but magicians are not given much credit these days, and trying to ignore words themselves is a rather futile strategy. It can give us a break for a while, but it can never solve the problem. You see, "ignoring" and "ignorance" stem from the same root. They have more in common that we might like to admit.
I recently read a tweet and a blog from two apparently intelligent, thinking individuals who were amazed - at least that's the impression they made - that a for-profit educational institution put profits before students. Really? How amazing is that? The name says it all: for-profit. The raison d'etre of the organization is profit, not education.
Oddly enough I've had personal experience with one of the institutions that belongs to the business group referred to in those messages. When I got my own MBA, the mantra being chanted was "the purpose of business is the maximization of profits". This was, by the way, the same mantra that was being chanted in every for- and not-for-profit institution of higher (so-called) education all across the land. I have a nephew who is currently studying (undergraduate) business administration at a respected German university, and his professors are instilling that same mantra in him.
It is time to wake up folks: it's all about the money.
If profits and money were only a business problem, I don't think I'd mind all that much. My friend Julius (Caesar) used to remind me of an old saying in his day: caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware"). This isn't anything new. And, if you stop to think about it, individuals whose highest ideal has been money have been cutting corners, stretching the truth, outright tricking and deceiving their customers since long before Julius' day as well. In fact, long before Julius a wise man once noted that the love of money is the root of all evil. Now, that was a very wise man.
No, my problem, if you will, is that we have taken the vocabulary over into other areas of life where it has little, if any, business at all (if you'll excuse the pun). Areas like education, for example: Why do students have to buy in to the curriculum? What does ownership of learning really mean? Since when should learning be considered an investment? And these are just a couple of the most obvious.
Part of this shift in usage, of course, is directly related to the fact that we have exchanged our society for a mere economy. Social notions, like community, welfare, and public, have all taken on negative connotations. We just don't like them very much any more. We prefer words of power (just like magicians): economic words.
These aren't just words. Words quite often stand for ideas and for ideals. People are willing to die for ideals ... not for words, mind you, but the ideals that those words come to represent. This is a normal, natural process, and because it is so, we should be a bit more careful when engaging in it. We should say what we mean, but more importantly, we should mean what we say.