Holtz: By honouring Orwell, we eliminate challenges

I hate the word challenges. It used to be a good word until every government minister spokesperson began to abuse it.

I hate the word challenges. It used to be a good word until every government minister, deputy minister, press secretary and delegated spokesperson began to abuse it. Now the practice has filtered down to officials at the regional and municipal levels and is particularly favoured by those responsible for administering educational and social programs. There are no longer problems in public education or health services, or indeed any area of public service, only challenges. George Orwell, author of 1984 and inventor of the words doublespeak  and  newspeak, would smile. His observation that governments use language manipulation to help control the public has been validated once again. Of course, the misuse of challenges pales in comparison to the U.S. military’s coining of pacification to mean the burning of a Vietnamese village, or collateral damage to mean killing non-combatant civilians, or even Richard Nixon’s use of misspoke to replace lied. Still, it is maddening.The abuse began when conservative politicians realized that they had to try to mitigate damage to social programs caused by fiscal restraint. That restraint and their conservative ideology led them to an imaginative way to solve their problems: they simply refused to acknowledge that there were any.  The word problem was replaced by challenge.  Up until that change was made, the cutbacks had forced those responsible for providing social services to face a series of problems; they usually had to make choices based on the lesser of two evils. Now problems and  dilemmas, plus setbacks, difficulties, delays, insufficiencies, debacles, disasters and the many adjectives that might be used to augment them, have all been replaced by one word: challenges. Is the fact that patients are often stacked up in hospital hallways where they receive little attention a healthcare travesty? Not at all.  It’s a healthcare challenge. Is the lack of care provided for at risk men and women with mental health issues an ongoing disaster? Of course not, it’s merely a persistent challenge. Bullying in schools? A challenge. Health services on remote reserves? A challenge. Child poverty?  Expensive prescription drugs? Elder abuse? All challenges.The problem is that the word challenge alludes to an indefinite, ongoing, non-specific, minor conflict. Saying that disastrous healthcare and education issues caused by severe and prolonged shortages of funds are challenges seems to indicate that they aren’t really serious The public needn’t worry; after all, aren’t some challenges positive, even character building? Shouldn’t we all challenge ourselves to be better people?It is time that, when a problem is called a challenge by a government official, public sector administrator or spokesperson, that person is challenged about the use of the word. Just a challenge, Mr. Smith? You wouldn’t call it a serious problem? If it is not a problem, does that mean there is no solution? Are you saying that it is going to be a continual struggle then, an unending, continual challenge?Every time we allow the word to be used without question, we are complicit in the lack of commitment and action that it represents.

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