Words Matter – a post for Safeguarding Week 2020

Obviously, I’m a reader. Everywhere I go you will find me with a book secreted about my person – I once got stopped going to a theatre show and asked why I had bought book along – was I expecting the show to be that boring!?

Lately, I have been reading into themes and theories on dystopian fiction and the current state of the world (Friday nights in our house are a blast!) and specifically the language used. In his essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell wrote about the use of tired metaphors and how political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit

Basically, a series of ‘soundbites’ which detracted from the seriousness of issues and fooled us into apathy. Interesting video here (which explains it much better than me!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oe64p-QzhNE&feature=emb_title

Recently at work my team shared our thoughts on an article discussing the application of the word “vulnerable” to whole sections of society during the first lockdown. How this detracts from individual need, pigeon holes people, places blame, creates barriers and resentment and reduces the seriousness of Covid-19. You can read the article here and form your own opinion: https://rewritingsocialcare.blog/2020/07/24/vulnerable/

Another interesting post I found on use of language (and as part of safeguarding week) was about the inappropriate use of language relating Down’s Syndrome. An example given in the article is the preferred of “has down’s syndrome” rather than “suffers down’s syndrome”: https://www.anncrafttrust.org/language-creates-reality-how-beccas-project-is-revolutionising-language-use/

I can also relate this to mental health and how stigmatising the use of language often is. Suicide is still referred to as committing suicide – this relates back to when it was against the law (you commit a crime) and considered a sin but now would it be kinder and more appropriate to say “completed suicide” or “took his/her own life? https://yourlifecounts.org/learning-center/suicide/language-of-suicide/#:~:text=The%20power%20of%20words%20%E2%80%93%20the%20language%20of,language%20is%20not%20accurate%20nor%20is%20it%20helpful.

Finally, I wanted to raise awareness of how we speak to ourselves. There is always a lot on my Insta feed about the way we speak to ourselves: we say things to ourselves that we would never say to anyone else! We often judge ourselves more harshly than we do others. We can be our own worst enemy, we sabotage ourselves and say things to ourselves that are not appropriate. We put ourselves down and believe the bad things we say about ourselves! But this works both ways – positive self-talk can lift us up; be your own hype squad: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/self-talk#how-does-it-work

As with everything, there are Buddhist quotes that’s puts it nice and succinctly: “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”

What has all of this got to do with safeguarding?

Well, the use of language can be either empowering or problematic, depending on how it is used.

So, to end Safeguarding week, I wanted to invite everyone to think about the language we use – and a challenge, instead of relying on easy stock phrases, be more creative, compassionate and considered in how we speak to, and about, others and ourselves.

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