I’m reading over the minutes of a staff meeting and it reminded me of two ways I’m trying to change my own business meeting language and, I hope, the language of my colleagues. I’m sure there are more, but these two—while reading the news of two more mass shootings in the sweltering heat of a climate-changed June—are top of mind:
I’ve started calling these handy list markers “acorns,” because I’m tired of “bullets” and bullets. In so many ways, the language of violence and warfare is embedded in our daily conversations. The threat of violence is so pervasive that it’s become the water we swim in, and few of us have acknowledged how much daily energy it’s now taking to stay afloat. Dissociating from the violence around us, changing our daily routes or our travel plans, worrying about children’s safety—all of these activities use so much of our intellectual, spiritual, and emotional energy that I can’t help but wonder if we might save some of that precious resource by not reinforcing pervasive violence in our casual speech.
Acorns feed squirrels and deer, and sprout new trees, which give shade and oxygen and sequester carbon. Bullets have just one purpose: to put holes in living beings. If we’re listing our ideas, or making a case for something, or explaining a procedure, which name better serves, bullets or acorns? I think the one that suggests expansion, new growth, vitality.
I’m tired of parking lots. The US is paving itself over daily, creating vicious heat-sinks that increase our desire for air conditioning, which increases our energy use, which exacerbates climate change and our tendencies to either go kill people in other countries for their oil or poison our own water and kill ourselves slowly here at home.
From a mental clarity standpoint, parking lots aren’t good metaphors for how we’d like to deal with what’s left over after a meeting anyway. In many cases, they are too huge, too sprawling, too confounding to be safe places to store what we need to deal with later. I mean, how many times have you come out of a movie theater or a mall after a couple hours and been unable to remember where you left your car? Or you “remembered” but it turns out you’ve recalled where you left it last time you were here, not this time?
I propose that at meetings we put our ideas in “bike racks” instead. Bike racks are slim, tidy, easily comprehended in a single glance. When you come out of school or the library, your bike is one of maybe six or a dozen, not hundreds, of vehicles.
Using “bike rack” as a place to park our ideas and questions changes our expectations, too, about how we move (or could move) through the world. In these climate-changing times, we need to start stretching our language—and our infrastructure—beyond the car. (Someday I’ll write an article about all the ways our daily language assumes everyone is using a car …)
Or, perhaps even better: Let’s park our ideas on a “park bench.” That way, we’ll know that when we do get a chance to address these questions, we will be comfortable, have a nice view, and the permission to slow down and really, truly answer them.