Passion, Resilience, and Other Pointless Words That Have Lost All Meaning

Top image: Katona Tours

This is the format for every speech ever made by a Singaporean Minister or CEO:

“It has been 30 years since X was founded. Thanks to our collective [insert core value], we have come a long way since [insert pivotal moment]. However, the future presents new challenges and we will need to be [insert core value] to overcome them.”

Every time I read one of these statements in the Straits Times, a cluster of my brain cells implode. Not because these speeches are difficult to understand, but because there is nothing to understand from these polysyllabic trainwrecks.

Every Minister wants you to be more innovative resilient forward thinking and every CEO wants to disrupt hack and synergise.

After a while, your brain no longer cares because your gut knows the truth: it’s all bullshit.

They are not deliberate falsehoods, but also not good enough to be called ‘truth’. Instead, they’re strings of vaguely virtuous mumbo-jumbo with no concrete meaning or real relevance for anyone.

Here’s a beginner’s lexicon:

1. Innovative

Our Prime Minister wants to lead ASEAN along the theme of ‘innovation’. Minister Ng Chee Meng insists that ‘innovation’ can be taught in schools while Minister Ong Ye Kung wants a more ‘innovative’ public service.

We need to create an environment where ‘innovation’ can flourish! Innovative thinking must be fostered in our youth! A ‘culture of innovation’ must be nurtured because this holy grail will increase our GDP, boost our birthrate, stop Thanos, and usher in an utopian future of voice-controlled toasters.

Of course, nobody knows how to actually achieve these lofty goals. Highly-innovative proposals include a new innovation sub-committee, building more innovation hubs and evidently, saying the word as many times as possible.

Unfortunately, Singapore is not Hogwarts. You can’t conjure ‘Smart Nation’ out of thin air just by muttering the magic words.

Let’s admit the truth: we have no idea how to be more innovative. This is the ministerial equivalent of your mom nagging you to ‘get your life together’.

2. Resilience 

In Singapore, Resilience is the panadol of national virtues; the answer to every single ailment from terrorism and wage stagnation to fake news. But if something is touted as the answer to everything, it’s most likely the answer to nothing.

Whether Al Qaeda cut off your arm or you lost your job in the economic downturn, please kindly bounce back from the setback and rise to the occasion.

In less atas wording: just tahan, okay?

3. Integrated

A good way to check for bullshit is by replacing X with its opposite. If the resulting sentence doesn’t make any sense, then there’s a 90% chance of bullshit.

Example 1:

Pan Jie Is a Bad Writer
Pan Jie is a Good Writer

Makes sense.

Example 2:

We are going to build a integrated resort
We are going to build a disintegrated/disconnected/disjointed resort


As this example clearly shows, ‘integrated’ has no business being an adjective. In most cases, it just means coherent or coordinated, a quality which should be a given rather than a premium.

Selling an ‘integrated’ business solution or policy is like selling caffeinated coffee. It takes some real balls (and bullshitting skills) to pass off rudimentary basics as cutting-edge ‘transformation’.

More often than not, these empty words are used as a sort of nice-sounding corporate wallpaper. They promise a brighter future, whilst refusing to acknowledge today’s imperfections in precise terms.

4. Passion 

‘We are a city fuelled by passion and pride. Around every corner, incredible experiences are being crafted … by locals who share a common trait: passion.’ – STB, Passion Made Possible.

For the longest time, I thought that writing was a way to pay my mortgage.

Guess I was wrong. According to STB, I am ‘fuelled by passion’ and so are you. We are not drones grinding our lives away for that paycheck after all! We are passion ambassadors who dance our way to work, where we craft ‘incredible experiences’ out of sheer love.

What humbug. Anyone who knows Singapore would have chosen a different word. Passion has always played second fiddle to pragmatism here. This has only changed in recent years, when our policymakers suddenly realised that tax dollars and marketing gains can be reaped from passion projects. (Think Facebook. Think Razer)

So, if you nurture passion in the hopes of milking future profits, is it still passion? Or merely a sound investment?

Nobody knows, but it does sound awfully pragmatic and dispassionate to me.

5. Cohesive

What the government says: We want to build a more cohesive and caring society.

What they mean: Stop being racist, please?

In other words: Cohesive is one of those rojak terms that no one can explain. It suggests racial harmony, celebrating diversity, visiting your grandma every week, and saying good morning to your neighbours.

Of course, no one wants to acknowledge that we ‘lack’ racial harmony or don’t care for old people. So that’s how we end up with ‘cohesive’: an abstract promise to fix our problems without acknowledging the existence of said problems.

It’s another way of saying: ‘We are not racist, but we could always be more not-racist. Just saying.’

6. Dynamic

If a word makes sense in every context from Tampines to Timbuktu, it’s probably a bullshit term.

e.g. dynamic frameworks, dynamic flavours, dynamic ideas, dynamic writing style , dynamic pricing, dynamic company culture, dynamic relationships, dynamic steering, dynamic growth, dynamic learning, dynamic spirit, dynamic braking systems, dynamic conversations, etc.

Yeah. Definitely BS.

7. Core Values

Unless you’re a porn director or an apple farmer, ‘core’ should not be a part of your vocabulary.

I want to poke my eyes out whenever someone starts talking about ‘core’ values or core issues. Mainly because core values are always some six abstract nouns harvested from a stillborn motivational poster. (Innovation! Empathy! Teamwork!)

In 10 out of 10 cases, they have zero connection to what your company does, to your daily tasks, or to the tangible reality of any breathing human within a 5-mile radius. At times, the core values of ‘teamwork’ and ’empathy’ seem almost satirical when you are working alone at night, after your manager has thrown you under the bus.

This may seem like a frivolous issue, but an addiction to pointless jargon has real-world consequences: it prevents critical thinking.

More often than not, these empty words are used as a sort of nice-sounding corporate wallpaper. They cover up an absence of new ideas or real solutions by gesturing vaguely towards a brave new future of technology and diversity and stuff.

They promise a brighter future, whilst refusing to acknowledge today’s imperfections in precise terms.

In doing so, they entrench problems like prejudice or apathy by plastering over them with a layer of impenetrable euphemism that’s impossible to argue with.

Everyone knows that it’s good to be more ‘innovative’, ‘passionate’ and ‘dynamic’. The problem is how, where and when. Without any concrete or believable details, the bullshit will forever fall on deaf ears.

So for the love of god, can we please cut resilience passion and other fluffy nonsense from our official rhetoric? Reading them in the news every day makes me want to integrate a bullet with my skull.

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