First published by the Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2004
At the Coalition’s campaign launch John Howard spoke about his “journey to reinforce my values as an Australian”. In his National Press Club speech Mark Latham described the election as “a long journey for the Australian people”.
Every time another finalist on Australian Idol is voted off, the show’s hosts introduce video highlights of their “incredible journey”. Staff bulletins talk about “journeys” to become best practice employers, wedding guests can expect the couple to thank them for joining them on their “life journey”, and TV finance journalists describe a stock price as going on a “journey”. Even one of the questions in an HSC English question yesterday was “The journey not the destination matters”.
The word “journey” has never been so ubiquitous, yet the irony is we are living in an era when we’re supposed to be shunning travelling and staying put.
The nesting trend has often been attributed to our fears about an unsafe world – if we’re not renovating, we’re all supposed to be bunkering down at home and embalming our frequent flyer cards. So why are we all so keen to sound like self-help gurus with training wheels by throwing around the word journey with such earnest abandon?
In an evermore complex, fragmented and secular world, it no doubt helps to think there’s an overarching logic governing everything that happens to us – it’s all about your personal journey. No doubt the pervasiveness of the word “journey” at least partly stems from the popularity of a generally narcissistic new age self-help language.
On an episode of Big Brother, one contestant seriously pondered whether another contestant should leave the house because, hey, “maybe it’s part of her journey?” Spending a few weeks going from the spa to the fridge and to the Freedom couch and back again is not a journey: it’s a few weeks going from the spa to the fridge and to the Freedom couch and back again.
Another explanation for the word’s popularity may be the way in which corporate language has started sidelining terms associated with ends, such as “goals” and “targets”, in favour of what might be described as a more feminised speech. New management speak prefers words describing processes and relationships: “continuous improvements”, “client relationship management” – and workplace “journeys”.
A media and cinema literate generation is also increasingly familiar with scriptwriting terms such as “character arc”, so perhaps it’s only natural that we will cast ourselves as the main character on a journey in our movie.
It’s just one small word, but words are important to us – as the recent best-selling books about language by Lynne Truss and Don Watson have demonstrated. And it’s a word that seems indicative of a growing inward-looking self-obsession – one that seems to be taking over from real journeys that bring us into contact with others.
We will continue to overuse and misuse the word journey until we regain a better sense of proportion and the relative weight of things. A journey is not what happens when a major bank changes its interest rate, despite what the ad claims: it’s better used to describe, say, an escape from a dictatorial regime and a life-threatening trip on a leaky boat.
The new agers who helped popularise the j-word often borrow their ideas from a mish-mash of religions and cultures in a crude and superficial fashion.
So let’s not add to this pseudo-religious and pompously earnest approach by using the word for every single thing we do. As one of the characters in the now defunct TV show The Secret Life of Us noted: “There is no journey. Shit just happens.”