The masculine principle is verb oriented while the feminine principle is noun oriented. Who can argue that we have become lovers of talk over action, and that gossip has overtaken tangible doing as the way we attempt to address societal troubles?
Because by our nature we men are drawn to action, we’ve invented an entire lexicon that, when spoken, we use to placate our urge to act by deluding ourselves into believing that we describe things we’ve done or will do by using “soft verbs”. Soft verbs are words or phrases that describe tangible actions but, by the combinations we choose, or through adopting metaphors, they really mean no action whatsoever.
Consider, as an example, the claims made on resumes. We may see it stated that Mr. Smith “coordinated the restructuring of the regional sales organization in a $500 million territory”. There are two soft verbs used. In this case “restructuring” is not a tangible action, and worse, to have “coordinated” a restructuring places Mr. Smith even once more removed from having actually done anything. In this case “coordinated” is a “double soft verb”.
Like most trends in language, an evolution of the perceived need for the soft verbs can be traced. The industrial revolution changed nearly every aspect of life, including our words, what they mean, and how we use them. But even before that massive technological jump and its coincident and ongoing automation and machine-for-man replacement in labor, problems started to arise with certain words.
Imagine a time when people went to a riverside on foot to collect water. If they carried the water back to their home, they really carried the water. It could have been said they “hauled’ the water. But the moment some apparatus was tossed on the back of a beast of burden, all of a sudden to claim to have carried the water was disingenuous. Honestly, they no longer could claim to have carried or to have hauled the water. The animal did it. The person’s action was then collecting, loading, unloading, and leading the animal. But, the word “haul” became sufficient to describe what the PERSON did, when in fact they’d done no such thing. The dictionary says that “to haul” means, “to pull or draw with force; move by drawing; drag”. But later, after the industrial revolution the meaning expanded. Now “to haul” means, “to do carting or transport, or move freight commercially”. Hauling evolved.
Imagine men during the industrial revolution fighting an internal battle to maintain the notion of tangible “doing” in the same sense as their ancestors, but increasingly relying on engines and machines to impart the bulk of the kinetic energy into the “work” they were doing. Even scientifically the definition of work betrayed these men. In physics Work=Force x Distance. (I like the humor this implies, that no matter how hard you lift or pull, if the object doesn’t move, you haven’t produced work). They were not applying the force any longer. They were controlling the device that applied the force.
Men are driven to do. Men are satisfied by doing. So imagine how frustrating it would be for a man to say that he had driven the truck that was loaded with rocks from the quarry to the construction site. For economy of word, and not unimportantly, for self satisfaction, the expression would become, “I hauled rocks all day”. It somehow met his need of “to do” better than the real description of what he had done. That was the beginning of verb softening.
The transition from self sufficiency to aggregated labor in corporations led to men further distancing themselves from the place where the verbal rubber meets the action on the road. All of a sudden one guy used a machine to break the rocks, another used a machine to load the rocks, still the driver drove the truck and delivered the rocks to the place where the sales people had sold the rocks and the logistics person had scheduled their delivery. Years before, the man would have gone and gotten the rocks and brought them to where he would use them. He would have broken them and carried them and built with them. Now, he can pick and choose from all of the verbs used to describe the process of getting rocks delivered to describe his own work day. People understand that he really doesn’t mean any of it literally, but they do not ponder the inaccuracy of the description.
“I busted rock all day”, “I loaded rock all day”, “and I hauled rock all day”…how do those sound?
Then came the information age, and a near impossible conundrum. How could the language of our father’s work describe what we do? Is it even conceivable to say now that we “went to work”? Sitting in a cube, moving letters and memos from pile to pile, or in the last 15 years, emails from file to file, is what comprises the average American man’s work day. Add to the rote desk tasks the ever-present meetings, and the planning…oh, the planning. That is the corporate manifestation of “we are going to”. The tasks have become so subdivided that not only can they barely be called actions, but also no one need feel responsible for any one minute task. So we “facilitate”, “coordinate”, and “oversee”. We “run things up flag poles” and “re-engineer” things, we caucus and find the “value proposition” before we “interface” with the customer, grabbing some “face time”. We hold “off-sites” and use the word “quality” a lot. The list goes on. We read and write books about the “process” of all these things. We adore CEO’s who fill books and speeches with little more than this meaningless soft talk. And we reward them by marking the stock price a tad higher.
Finally, we’ve developed a childlike redefining of the once simple word “change”. We have defined it down to mean little more than an appeal to emotion in political campaigns, and we’ve defined it up to be the most profound concept to enter the corporate boardroom in years. We have dozens of business books (Who Moved my Cheese) written on the subject of change, and, along with the books, armies of consultants to help us wade through the concept of change; a concept they treat with more reverence than astrophysics. Corporate middle managers walk breathlessly from seminars where they were told that change will happen and they had best embrace and exploit it. Corporations have created C level executive positions to “manage change”, complete with the acronym M.O.C. (management of change).
The result of all this is a vast directionless mass of task oriented workers neither taking satisfaction from their jobs nor creating, individually, anything of value. It is a dependent group that would be lost without a full email box and a blinking phone message light each morning; they’d have no idea what to do. So companies created banal “mission statements” that outline in very basic terms how they strive to make good products, make money, and not harm anyone along the way. Once upon a time that was called intuitive common sense.
But for society at large the effects are even more profound. Listless employees, men and women, expectant but having little or no initiative, take the softened verbs that have evolved from the changing feminized world and apply them to daily life. Men see no need to actually DO anything but live frustrated lives in the lack of action. Men call a bunch of contractors and say they built a home. Women sit on homeowners associations and write nagging rules to keep the things they SEE daily homogeneous. Pursuits arise among men to address the frustration. Men take woodworking classes at the hardware superstore not realizing the yearning to build cabinets is part of their basic nature, which has been suppressed by our society of busyness. Women lose faith in men because men seem utterly unprepared to meet the needs of the family should anything catastrophic happen. Men feel disrespected by women as the women grow less and less comfortable with their diluted roles, yet at the same time, our feminized society overtly rewards men for being soft verb people. We criticize the hayseeds who hunt, fish, and build. But when the towers fell on September 11, 2001, all of a sudden there was a renewed respect for men who DO things. Ten years on we are back to soft verb preference.
Rebuilding is not a soft verb action. And when the lights go out, it will take more than a room full of facilitators to replace the figurative light bulb. It will take a hayseed, and thank goodness there are a few still out there.