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Jewish World Review March 20, 2001 / 25 Adar, 5761

Mark Lane

Mark Lane
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Who could foresee all this visioning? -- VERBING is not always a bad thing. I'm not a language scold. I'm ready to dictionary at least a few verbs that began their lives as nouns. It's a process that gives the language zip. Holds down sentence lengths and headline counts.

Normally I'm willing to let the marketplace of words sort itself out. But sometimes a word comes along that just goes too far. That takes advantage of permissive word-minting. That makes you wonder why so many people feel that they needed to say this thing.

Take "visioning."


It's turning up everywhere. Reports of town "visioning committees" are as commonplace in municipal coverage as zoning stories. When Gov. Jeb Bush's Growth Management Study Commission issued its final report last month, it used the word more than a half-dozen times. It called on localities to "establish local priorities through visioning."

We used to establish local priorities through planning. But planning sounds so bureaucratic. So 20th century. It conjures images of post-war commies with five-year-plan coordinators and central planning committees. If they had central visioning committees, maybe we'd all be singing "The Internationale."

But if we've learned anything from the 20th century, it's that planning gets mired in detail, bureaucracy and unexpected changes. Show me a plan and I'll show you an amended plan by Thursday.

No wonder our more advanced age chooses to vision instead.

Nor is this limited to government. Once again, it is the private sector that is leading the way. Soon after the first consultant composed the first vision statement, it was only a matter of time before industry would find a new word for this work. Writing doesn't sound important enough. This is visioning, darnit!

Nor are we asked merely to vision our way through commerce and public life. We are supposed to vision on our own time.

I know this because people sometimes give me self- improvement books. I don't believe in self-improvement, but there are always other people whose visioning suggests I'm improvable.

These people give me books on organization, improving my temperament, taking charge of my inner Mars and Venus while moving cheese around effortlessly and thinking outside the box.

I should write a book on how to live better by overcoming the addiction to self-improvement. It's still in the visioning stage.

The self-help world suggests visioning through journaling. Nobody keeps a journal anymore, they journal instead.

Oddly, I know few journalists who journal. I don't journal. I column. Journaling is a visioning exercise. Columning, by contrast, is often a de-visioning exercise. A reaction to dumb visioning by others.

The test of a new word is whether it can connect you with a useful idea or make you see things in a new, or at least more amusing, way. A good new word is like the punch line to a new joke. People will repeat it as though they thought of it themselves until they wear it out.

A bad new word, however, drafts you into the sales force. It gets you to say things you don't fully mean or talk around things that you do.

"Visioning" is not a good word and I can't see myself using it. ("I vision you being back before midnight, young lady. Do you share this vision?")

I still wish the Legislature luck in getting cities and counties to vision their futures. But somewhere along the line, it will all come back to somebody actually doing something.

Visioning is circling the dot at the other end of the road map. But it's also useful to fill the tank and get going. We do not lack for destinations. Just good drivers.

I vision a long road ahead.

Comment on JWR contributor Mark Lane's column by clicking here.

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© 2000, M. R. Lane