Promise nothing and nothing is all they get

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

America will never heal its ailing health care system until we find a cure for bad writing. Our physically and mentally ill are held captive by academia nuts and jargon jugglers incapable of composing a simple declarative sentence.

Bad writing is like bad food. It’s difficult to define but easy to detect. If the swallowing doesn’t make you ill, the indigestion will.  Nothing creates nausea-induced ambiguity like the writing of government reports, page after page of lip service and insincerity smothered with lame verbs like “enhance” and “explore” and “consider” and “facilitate.”  I call the syndrome “badverbia.”

When journalists traffic in badverbs their stories do not get published. When scholars do it, they get appointed to presidential study commissions and the editorial boards of medical journals. No one is taken seriously in the health care policy field unless his PhD is accompanied by both an MBA (Master of Bad Adverbs) and a BS (Badverbs of Science). Hence the expression, “He is one of the leading B.S. artists in his field.”

Consider the federal government’s landmark study, “Transforming Mental Health Care in America” and its oxymoronic subtitle:  “The Federal Action Agenda.”  For sheer entertainment, I recommend that you hop on the Internet, download  a copy, and select random passages to read aloud during holiday parties.

To fix the mental health care system, the mental health committee report calls urges that communities and states:

• “develop systems” and “maximize existing resources”
• “identify and promulgate research-based public health messages
• “follow the principles of federalism”
• “ initiate a marketing campaign”
• “focus on desired outcomes”
• “focus on policies that maximize” whatever needs maximizing
• “develop projects designed to …”
• “develop a strategy to implement”
•  “expand awareness of” something-something
• “continue to investigate” something-else
• “increase the cost effectiveness of” whatever
• “prepare key recommendations for” something-and-whatever
• “review the literature and develop new studies”

Notice the seemingly infinite variation of “actions” made possible by meaningless verbs — focus, prepare, develop, expand, increase, support, review, initiate.  The “action statements” urge no action because they are framed in language that means nothing. Nothing being the entire point, “badverbia’ is the highly developed art of making nothing sound like something. Unless I’ve lost you by now.

How will all this nothingness be enforced? What standards of inaction will be used to ensure that nothing ventured results in nothing gained?

The mental health report says the government — no particular government in particular — must engage “leaders and facilitators” to “ensure innovation, flexibility and accountability at all levels of government.”  Specifically, such leaders must “facilitate linkages” and “serve as the center of gravity for system transformation” to make sure everyone – and no one in particular – works together on the common problem.  Assuming that the anyone, at this point, can still remember the problem.

It gets better.

A draft of the mental health report was reviewed by the U.S. Department of Empty Gestures, where government proofreaders added clarity about the need for future study.  Lest anyone — least of all the taxpayers who funded this study — have any doubt who writes these reports, the final text calls “enhancement of established research core infrastructures and investigator-initiated research.” For those untrained in government badverbia, this means our major universities promise breakthrough findings on health care reform just as soon as we send them a bunch of money.

I realize that my analysis of health care research may be seen as nothing stupid and vague generalizations. So what?  What good is having a column to write if you can’t make stupid generalizations?

Perhaps someone will make sense of these scientific recommendations and transform then into an unambiguous, meaningful blueprint that improves the quality of medical care for all Americans.  If that happens we’ll touch base with our readers and bring them up to speed once we’ve had time to kick the tires and evaluate linkages and pushbacks to ensure that everyone is on the same page in the nation’s courageous initiative to initiate desirable initiatives in mental health care reform. In other words, we promise you nothing.


David Chartrand writes humor and commentary from his home in Olathe. • • Twitter@DavidVChartrand

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