Seán Moncrieff: Everyone is on a ‘journey’ these days, but they’re not all equal

The word ‘journey’ has travelled far. It is now deep in the Land of Meaninglessness

Not to take away at all from the many profound issues we have in the developed world but generally, we are exceptionally lucky human beings. Photograph: iStock

Not to take away at all from the many profound issues we have in the developed world but generally, we are exceptionally lucky human beings. Photograph: iStock

 

Let’s take a journey into the word “journey”.

It’s been deployed in a metaphorical sense for hundreds of years. And that’s grand. But in the last few decades there’s been a thermonuclear detonation of “journeyism”. It’s reasonable to assume that Oprah Winfrey had something to do with it: or more precisely, the emotional-industrial complex that she had a large part in founding. You know: wellness.

Oprah was always asking people about their journeys. At first, it was used in connection with experiences that had a genuine element of seriousness: severe illness or discovering that your mother is really your auntie.

Right now, there’s an advert on Irish radio that excitedly whispers about 'your home heating journey'. Seriously

But in jig time, all sorts of people who have rather cushy lives were having all sorts of journeys: Kardashians and their various iterations have pregnancy journeys and dietary journeys and hair care journeys. Contestants on reality television shows don’t just take part and perhaps get better at dancing or baking or brick-laying. They have a journey.

Walk into any bookshop and check out (what should be called) the self-serving memoir section: how many of them have the word “journey” in the title? Or put the word into Eason’s website: 375 results. (Though in fairness, some of them are about actual journeys).

Hallmark has a range of cards called Journeys. Been to a wedding recently? Married life is a journey you take together. (Terminating where? Divorce?)

Industry adores the word. Pretty much every company is on a journey to become more environmental or conscious of equality or more efficient at raking in profits. Right now, there’s an advert on Irish radio that excitedly whispers about “your home heating journey”. Seriously.

This is a word that has journeyed far from its original meaning and deep into the Land of Meaninglessness. It’s a qualifier: a means of adding faux-profundity to the most banal experiences. It sounds like it might be vaguely spiritual; that along the way, the intrepid traveller comes into the possession of Buddha-like wisdom – while also getting quite good on the trumpet.

Granted, this kind of thing happens all the time. Any number of words have become so overused they shouldn’t be said out loud any more. Your order of a latte isn’t “perfect”. Your shoes are not “awesome”.

But journey is different: it’s part of the wellness culture’s commodification of experience, a process that is only possible when all experiences are presented as being essentially the same; or at least, having the same moral and experiential weight.

Your journey is your truth and should be treated with reverence; no matter how self-indulgent it might be. At its worse, the use of the word journey is the spoiled elite pretending they have experienced hardship. It fetishises mild discomfort and presents it as suffering.

Of course, suffering is all relative. Imagine being poor, but suddenly find yourself in a position where you never have to worry about paying another bill. You’d imagine all your cares would fall away. But they won’t. Other worries will come to the foreground, and after a while, even if you don’t want to say it out loud, they will feel as significant as your previous financial struggles.

Because your sourdough baking journey is just as valid as a journey out of a refugee camp

But while they may feel that way, that’s not to say they are. Objectively, it is possible to say that some problems are worse than others. Far worse.

Not to take away at all from the many profound issues we have in the developed world – issues the wellness culture shies away from – but generally, we are exceptionally lucky human beings. We don’t have to contend with the daily threat of death from violence or disease or hunger.

Do we think about this much? Of course not. It’s too uncomfortable. The effort of having to convince ourselves that we don’t have to feel even a tiny bit guilty is too draining. Best to concentrate on our own difficulties. Our journeys.

Because your sourdough baking journey is just as valid as a journey out of a refugee camp. 

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