Everyday Lies

Mission misstatements

What is at your core?

I sat at a table in a train the other day opposite a man who was working on his computer. On the back of the screen was a label on which were inscribed the handwritten words, “Kindness is at my core”. There was also a vaguely heart-shaped device on the label.

Would you believe someone who told you that kindness was at his core, wherever that was? But these days people are asked more and more to describe themselves. This, of course, amounts to a demand for gross exaggeration, if not for outright lies. It is for others extol our virtues, if any. To proclaim one’s virtues is to proclaim one’s vices.

One is also asked, in interviews, to admit one’s weaknesses as well as to boast of one’s strengths, but that is to turn us into Dr Chasuble, the clergyman in The Importance of Being Earnest, who in indicating the universal moral fallibility of mankind, admitted to being himself peculiarly susceptible to draughts. Under the new dispensation of talking about oneself in public, admitting one’s faults is but another way of boasting.

Everywhere one turns, impersonal organisations claim to put something or other at their heart, as if they had one. They claim to have what hardly existed even 30 years ago, namely core values. They issue mission statements, as if they were preachers to the cannibals of the South Seas, calling them to repentance. Everything they do is world-class (a sure marker of mediocrity). I take an example at random from the jobs pages of a recent edition of the British Medical Journal:

Our ‘5 Star Patient Care’ strategy is at the heart of all that we do; supporting our vision to provide world-class services for all our patients by getting it right for every patient, every time.

I am much too kind, compassionate and understanding to comment.

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