Proactive & Presenteeism are Orwellian


In George Orwell’s famous book, 1984, he described actions of Big Brother in a dystopian future. In the future, he showed how words were used in different and misleading ways. In the book it was referred to as Newspeak and now is often referred to as Orwellian. Newspeak was used to mislead people. Examples of Newspeak included having Ministry of Love to oversee torture and brainwashing, a Ministry of Plenty to oversee shortage and famine, a Ministry of Peace to oversee war and atrocity, and a Ministry of Truth to oversee propaganda and historical revisionism. To further confuse people, sayings such as “War is Peace”, “Ignorance is Strength”, and “Freedom is Slavery” were used throughout the text.

The Newspeak used by Orwell in 1984 is now  referred to as Doublespeak and is defined as a way to deliberately disguise, distort, or reverse the meaning of words. Current uses of Doublespeak include euphemisms, or expressions used when something is unpleasant such as using “downsizing” for layoffs. Doublespeak is used to disguise the truth.

To me this has been happening with health and has hurt attempts at improving health. Halbert Dunn in the late 1950’s and 1960’s attempted to rectify the meaning of health which he saw as being understood by most to be the absence of disease with concept of Wellness or positive health. He described the idea of wellness in this linked article “High Level Wellness for Man and Society” and related writings.

Dunn coined the idea of wellness or positive health because health became negative and to be seen then, just as it often is now, as the absence of problems. True health is the PRESENCE OF PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND SOCIAL WELL-BEING as defined in the World Health Organization’s Constitution. Not only is health the presence of physical, mental, and social well-being it is defined to be “NOT MERELY THE ABSENCE OF DISEASE AND INFIRMITY.”



To achieve health our focus needs to be on taking actions to create physical, mental and social well-being. Similarly, Tal Ben-ShaHar explained in Happier, happiness must be pursued to be attained. If we do nothing, unhappiness will follow. Just like happiness, if we want health, it must be caused to happen if nothing is done, disease and infirmity are likely. Currently words such as Presenteeism and Proactive and others are used in an Orwellian fashion to suggest a more positive a approach to health. However upon examination it can be seen that these words can be thought of as Orwellian Newspeak or Doublespeak.

Presenteeism has been suggested to be a more positive way to address productivity rather than absenteeism. Of course absenteeism hurts productivity because work cannot be completed when they are not there. According to the October 2004 Harvard Business Review: “Researchers say that presenteeism—the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning—can cut individual productivity by one-third or more. In fact, presenteeism appears to be a much costlier problem than its productivity-reducing counterpart, absenteeism. And, unlike absenteeism, presenteeism isn’t always apparent: You know when someone doesn’t show up for work, but you often can’t tell when—or how much—illness or a medical condition is hindering someone’s performance. “Outwardly you look fine,” says Farler, who over the years tried numerous prescription and nonprescription medications for her allergies, with little success. “People don’t see how you feel.” My concern is that while being present should better, presenteeism does not represent something positive or even potential, it is more about what is missing instead of what is present. If we want to create gains to improve health and productivity, our efforts must focus on what we need to do to create what we desire, rather than what should not be done or avoided to prevent what is unwanted.

Being proactive is also Orwellian. Proactive is about doing something before so something bad won’t happen. Isn’t that “prevention”? A more effective suggestions would be to take action to cause something good to happen rather than just avoid something bad. If prevention works, as explained earlier, nothing happens – no problem but neither has desired outcome been achieved. Nothing, or prevention of problems, if done well, is achieved by being proactive – isn’t that Doublespeak?

Lets focus on what we can do to create desired outcomes and worry less about what we must do to eliminate possible problems. I make this suggestion because if we can create desired outcomes, this means we have  overcome or made irrelevant any possible circumstances that would keep it from happening.

I look forward to hearing about how you are working to generate comprehensive benefits by creating interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Be Well’r,

Craig Becker, PhD

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

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