If you say “going forward” you are a zombie

Even if you know what’s what

There was a time, not so long ago, when you didn’t begin a sentence with “Going forward.” This is a fact. There was an actual moment in recent history when somebody said “going forward” for the very first time. Then, like invisible rockets of rhinovirus shooting across a board table, it spread.

The origin of this pandemic has been blamed on the US Securities and Exchange Commission. I don’t know about that. But whoever did it clearly felt a need to convince his audience he had special insight into, and control over, what’s what, both now and in the future. There is no other reason to use these words in this way, that I can see (next time you hear someone say “going forward,” try the sentence without it. See?). I sympathize with this need. I am sure we have all had moments, or months, or years, of insecurity about our place in this world, where proving our value around the table can feel like a matter of life and death. As long as you can convincingly use a term like “going forward,” you must know what’s what; you are safely in the middle of the herd; you are in on it, and not one of those poor stragglers who seem to be missing the point, easily left behind to be torn apart by wolves.

But it’s the zombie angle that fascinates me. It’s the fact that so few people seem to realize that they’ve picked up the virus without even knowing it. They don’t seem to realize they used “going forward” for the very first time once. I know this is true because I have asked people about their use of “going forward.” I am not kidding when I say the look that comes across their face is likely to be one of confusion, like the look of someone who has just awoken in a place other than their bed. When asked directly in this way, people are likely to completely reject the suggestion that they have contracted this virus. And they are also likely to grow defensive, and even irate.

People don’t like to be told they behave like zombies sometimes. This is a frightening thing, after all, isn’t it? It’s scary because then you have to wonder what other viruses could infect you. You have to wonder whether you are in control of your own mind. Because what if you’re not? What if the one thing you thought you controlled is actually out of your control? What if that?