Thoughts on Toyota, greed, and dictionaries

Akio Toyoda

Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota

Today, the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, did some explaining as to why the safety issues occurred.

Some quotes from this article:

“Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick,” Toyoda said in the statement.

“We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that,” he said. “I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced.”

Ah, so you wanted more money faster before you had the system set in place to make sure the quality of the product didn’t suffer. This, of course, where a poor quality item can lead (and did) to death. My first instinct would be to say that this situation is precisely the definition of greed; I looked it up to make sure.

Greed

Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: greed
Pronunciation: \ˈgrēd\
Function: noun
Etymology: back-formation from greedy
Date: 1609

: a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed

That definition struck me as worth pondering (or cogitating) about. What does ‘need’ mean? Do humans really need anything more than food and shelter? If you want a nicer chair or want a softer mattress does that make you greedy? I tend to think of the word ‘excess’ when I think of greed, not just anything more than ‘needed’.

Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: 1need
Pronunciation: \ˈnēd\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ned, from Old English nīed, nēd; akin to Old High German nōt distress, need, Old Prussian nautin need
Date: before 12th century

1 : necessary duty : obligation
2 a : a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful b : a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism
3 : a condition requiring supply or relief
4 : lack of the means of subsistence : poverty

Do these definitions help us at all? Certainly the third and fourth definitions do nothing for our desire to upgrade our lives somewhat without being considered greedy. The second definition seems to offer us much more leeway, in the way that dictionaries have to accommodate the way people use words rather than the ‘actual’ meaning. 2a mentions anything that someone could ‘desire’ or consider ‘useful’ as something they ‘need’. Really? That’s need? 2b almost gives everybody carte blanche to claim that they ‘need’ something for their physiological or psychological well-being, thereby making the definition of the word almost silly, in my opinion.

Dictionary

How could the word ‘need’ mean anything someone might find useful or desire? If someone said tried to define greed in those terms, you’d give them a blank stare in disbelief. This is not the first time I’ve had a problem with a definition, which can be read in the post Literally Outraged.

I realize the job of dictionary editors isn’t to create the definitions but to put into words the definition that society has chosen for such words. Irks me nonetheless.

So where does that leave us? If we want to upgrade our cable package, or get a second car, does that make us greedy? I can understand someone thinking that greed would apply if someone had 30,000 cars or 25 houses. On the other hand, if the person has billions of dollars, is it some sort of ultra-greed or is it just spending lots of money that isn’t harming anyone?

The dictionary definition proves, that, like everything in life, it’s subjective.

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