Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Words have power, and other cliches

Several years ago, on the eve of a much desired promotion, I had a meeting with my then-boss, and a late colleague to talk about the logistics. Aside from going over money, space, and the responsibilities of the position, we also discussed the title. I insisted on being called "Director" rather than "Coordinator."

Later, my colleague, a very dear, honest, open-minded man, wondered: why would I be so inflexible on such a minor detail? Besides, what was wrong with the lovely word "coordinator," anyway? Yes, visualizing "coordinator" does summon some positive images, including relationships to wonderful concepts such as "cooperation," and "agility," while "director" could bring to mind the top-to-bottom barking of orders.

Well, I told him, during the process of this negotiation, I have considered our academic bureaucracy; I have reviewed the other similar jobs at the organization, and my little survey led me to a startling conclusion. When the incumbent was a man, generally the position carried the director label. And when it was held by a woman, it was more often called a coordinator.

I became a director. Nit-picking? Perhaps, but important nonetheless. So, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me," or is "the pen mightier than the sword?" I say, there's power in words.

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