Let’s engage about engaging

Mbabane, Swaziland | 17 September 2014
Bill Snaddon

If you’ve worked in the non-governmental or non-profit sector for any length of time, you’ll be aware of several jargon words that get thrown around. Thrown around willy-nilly, if you will.

One such word is engage.

“Let’s meet and engage in terms of the strategic framework,” rings a familiar tone.

In fact, it’s not just in the offices and light-flickering corridors of NGOs where this word – engage – is being over-used.

You’ll hear businesspeople, government types, sporting enthusiasts – all lobbing it around with great passion. The list could drag on but I’ll stop there before I risk boring you, if I haven’t achieved that already. But that’s the thing about jargon – it’s the gift that keeps on giving — a bit like politicians when they open their mouths.

My own prime minister back in Australia, Tony Abbott, who is affectionately known as the “mad monk” – from his early flirtations with the priesthood – made some interesting remarks last week. In light of recent terror attacks in Iraq, Tony raised Australia’s “terror threat level” from “medium” to “high”.

According to news reports, the official meaning of a “high terror alert” is that a “terrorist attack is likely”.

But then, according to the BBC, Tony goes on to say: “I want to stress that this does not mean that a terror attack is imminent.”

Instead of working to stop terror plots, we are now stuck on the difference between “likely” and “imminent”.

As I was saying, the gift that keeps on giving.

I’m getting distracted here. Coming back to the point of the column – overusing the word “engage” – let me assure you that I am not throwing stones.

I am the first to admit that I regularly abuse – and overuse – this word. That’s why I’m engaging on the matter here and now.

Just the other day, as it happens, I engaged four people. I wish I could say we engaged on “high-level issues”, but I would be lying.

You know you’ve reached the Peak of Jargon Mountain when you can say you’re “engaging on high-level issues”. It’s even better if you can say this with a straight face. What those high-level issues are exactly doesn’t really matter, as long as they are high-level.

Seriously, though, now that you’ve got me thinking about this, have you ever thought that people in high-level meetings might, actually, be high? Sometimes, after reading the communiqués after such meetings, one can only wonder.

Stay with me on this: maybe because they are so high it means they are so far away from the ground – i.e. reality.

I digress, again.

One day, god willing, I’ll get there. I hear the pay is pretty good on top of that mountain.

As I was saying, I engaged four people the other day.

At this rate, as one friend pointed out, I could become a pastor. I quickly pointed out to this naïve friend that pastors preside over weddings, not engagements. Just as quickly in reply, he pointed out that these days, what with the pastor business booming and all, pastors are now offering engagement services as well. Some are even offering the “engagement and grass eating combo” – at a discount, of course.

Nothing much was resolved during this discussion, apart from a lot of pointing.

My friend, of course, was just joking about the engagement services being offered by pastors.

But when all is said and done – to stick with the marriage comparison – perhaps all this engaging (and not enough marrying) is just an excuse to avoid the real work.

This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland on 17 September 2014

#39_Let's engage about engaging_17 Sept 2014

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