Recently, I’ve had an increasing number of emails and texts that invite me to “reach out” if I would like more information. Businesses and other organizations claim to be reaching out and inviting others to reach out in return. I have an image of a great many arms that are wanting things.
Most dictionaries define “reaching out” as referring to an effort to help someone or to ask for help. It’s an expression that was often used by churches or charitable organizations to encourage us to assist those in need. Now it just means making contact with someone. It simply means texting, phoning, emailing for whatever reason.
I guess that’s OK. Language changes, becomes inflated or dumbed down. Words disappear. There is, now, in fact, an emoji with an expressionless face and an extended, grasping hand that apparently means “reaching out.”
I remember feeling moved when someone asked me to reach out to a family in need. And feeling grateful when someone I didn’t know actually reached out to me because I was having a hard time. Just now a friend texted and invited me to visit her at her farm. She didn’t use the expression “reaching out,” she just did it. I felt it.
Words come and go. People no longer call, ask, request, inquire, implore, entreat, beg, write, or otherwise contact. They reach out. The supermarket, my insurance company, the car salesman, and a great many other people keep reaching out to me. And they invite me to reach out to them.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. But the image of so many hands and arms reaching out with no meaningful purpose concerns me.
I hope we aren’t losing the sense of what “reaching out” used to mean.