Corbett Barr

Lifestyle Business Weekly

Lip Service Is a Disservice

Lip Service

Green. Sustainable. Local. Organic.

Liberal. Socialist. Conservative. “Tea Bagger.”

Authenticity. Transparency. Leading your tribe.

Do what you love. Follow your passion. Be yourself.

What do these have in common?

They’re all once powerful words that have lost meaning. They’re buzzwords.

Many buzzwords start out as important concepts identified first by thought leaders. Then they catch on amongst a wider group of enthusiasts. Then opportunists milk the terms and borrow the benefits associated with them. The opportunists care about boosting their popularity but not about why the underlying concepts are important.

Then the general public catches on. The general public has only a vague idea of what the terms mean or why they are important, but people want to fit in and either do what’s right or pick a side, so they pay lip service to the terms.

Lip service is a disservice. It’s insincere to use terms simply because they’re popular without really understanding what they mean.

Once the lip service takes over, the corporate interests move in. Anything that becomes a buzzword will ultimately be used to make profits.

And that’s when a concept that started with the power to change the world for the better becomes impotent.

When was the last time you thought about the real meaning behind a buzzword you use? When was the last time you dug deep and did your own research on a topic to find out what you should really think about it (instead of just repeating what you hear)?

If you use the words but don’t know why they’re important, you become a marketing target. You contribute to making those potentially powerful terms weak, or you unknowingly make meaningless words more useful to the opportunists.

It’s up to us to stop the hype cycle and to stop letting opportunists steal the value of our words.

photo by Harold Abramowitz

Corbett Barr

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  1. Sometimes you have to live it before you really understand the meaning of something.

    Like poverty. The only way to get a grip on third world poverty is to take a year or two off and live amidst the poor otherwise you will never have an understanding of their challenges.

    The key thing in all of this is to quit talking, and start being…

    • That’s a great example, David. Poverty, “entitlements,” “social programs.” How many times do you hear those thrown around in political debates without much real substance?

  2. Le Sigh, Corbett.

    It’s an inevitable trend.

    Like in the case of “lifestyle design”, perhaps it’s a good thing because it brings a great idea to a lot of people who might not have known about it.

    Good Vibes~

  3. Whoa, Corbett! This sounds so much different to your usual, more upbeat, style.

    I gotta say I agree wholeheartedly, though. As I’ve said before I’m planning a relaunch of my blog, which I’m hoping to base around my experiments in the lifestyle design/passive income world.

    However, the one thing that’s holding me back at the moment is the niggling feeling that I don’t really have any authority in this field and consequently whatever I write about will lack a certain gravitas.

    I’d really like to record my experiences but I honestly feel, based on some other blogs that I’ve followed, that until I reach a certain milestone I can’t really imagine who would be interested in reading about the journey so far.

    BTW – is the formatting on this comment OK? ;-)


    • Hey Tim,

      If it means anything to you, I will be reading it if you get it published. There are a lot of people who are just getting started and there will be others that haven’t even started yet, they will all need your beginner’s insight.

      Your experience are yours and no one else has had them, and there are people who will relate to you that can’t relate to others. I used to make the same mistake and I almost killed my blog, but once I started I found out that doing is more important than having followers. Just do it. I will be there, if no one else, but that’s not true.

    • Hey Tim,
      I was feeling exactly the same way you are, and I thought to hell with it, its somthing I want to do, and at the very least its a creative process where I can empty my thoughts, so I went ahead and started my blog. Its only a few weeks old, but im soo glad I did, Ive elready met some cool people.

      Go for it Tim

      Ps ive become extremely interested in small up and coming blogs – I love the passion and enthusiam and freshness they bring.
      I look forward to reading your blog Tim

    • Hey Tim, it’s not about how much expertise you have. There are people who can learn from you and your experience and perspective, even if you’re not a complete “expert.” I like to think of expertise as a continuum, not an absolute. You can act as a facilitator or curator to your audience by finding other great resources to share.

      My point in the article wasn’t so much about expertise, but about the casual use of buzzwords by people who don’t even know the real definitions.

      • Hi Corbett,

        I was just a little wary of writing about things like lifestyle design and following one’s passion when, for me right now, those things are purely aspirational rather than being currently experienced.

        However, the positive comments above have encouraged me to stop looking for reasons not to write and get the hell on with it!

        Thanks again for the inspiration guys…


        • Aspiration is a perfectly suitable motivation and place to start from. Don’t forget also that developing a unique point of view is critical. How will what you write be different than what’s already out there? You need to answer the question “why should I read your site instead of the hundreds or thousands that already exist?”

          I’m not trying to discourage you. It will just make your life much easier if you differentiate somehow. Read my post at Think Traffic about unique selling propositions for more help.

  4. I respectfully disagree – perhaps it’s because in another life, I was a corporate unix sysadmin, so I learned to ignore buzzwords when idjuts talked about them but still managed to live them in my job.

    It just requires an effective filter to me.

  5. They are but labels – when really it’s all about our actions and what we are being. Great post – thanks.

  6. I was just talking about the “Lifestyle Design” label with someone else recently. I think that it’s useful as a shorthand for a specific movement. But on the other hand, it’s gotten watered down and overused (most notably by Ferriss). I wonder how long it will be before it catches on with the general public and corporations start using it.

    But, on the other hand, we have to call it something.

  7. What a really nice and intriguing break down of how these powerful word/meanings can filter down to a Facebook Status’.

    But I don’t know if I agree 100%, in my eyes, I believe only the quotes that are hard to understand will lose it’s potency.

    For example, “‎The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard

    I mean, this quote pretty self explanatory in my opinion… eventually popular and easy to understand quotes like this and “live each day like it’s your last” become quotes we put on our car’s bumper…

    will remind us, (remind me atleast), to live each quote to the fullest day after day

    Thanks for sharing Corbett

  8. This is one of the hardest things to overcome when trying to pursue a “sustainable” lifestyle. Everyone and their brother starts using the word for every meaning in the book until it has no meaning and others take it as the new trend.

    By giving examples of what it means to me, I hope others will understand that it holds a deep significance for me and I apply it to many things: energy, food production, business, etc. but it’s not just lip. It’s for real. Sustainability isn’t just about buying things that are labeled sustainable. It’s embodying your ideal, always questioning, always learning and applying.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • Right Vanessa, that’s about the best you can do. Try to open people’s eyes to the fact that sustainability is a real concept, not just some box to check off on the marketing plan for a new food or housing development or whatever.

  9. The worst offenders are people who use the buzzwords but don’t purely believe in the ideology behind them. Flies buzz around rich food and dead meat.

  10. You’re dead on, Corbett. I’ve never understood how ‘going green’ means being compelled to buy more shopping bags.

    Or the phrase ‘be yourself.’ Who the heck else am I supposed to be?

    At the same time, buzz words are shortcuts. Language evolves on its own, and people look for easier ways to express complex concepts.

    The problem arises when the definition changes along the way; the thought leader’s idea of authenticity is way different than that of the general public’s.

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