Shh…a word in your ear!

I was having coffee with a friend this morning and we started talking about a mutual acquaintance who unfortunately is having a tough time with illness.  My friend talked about how this lady was getting her head down and dealing with it, looking forward to getting through it and resuming normal life again soon.

imagesAnd I recalled a piece in an article I had read over the Christmas period about a woman whose Mother was nearing the end of her life after a number of years with cancer. In it the author said that as she reviewed her diaries for the last few years, there was a particular type of language she had used in relation to her mother and the illness.  She had written and had talked about the battle with cancer, how her Mum had beaten this and that, how their were gearing themselves up to fight the disease etc.  And as her Mum drew to the end of her life (she sadly died over the Christmas holiday) she had found her language changing.

She realised that the fighting talk that had helped her support her Mum and deal with her situation in the past was no longer helpful. Instead she had found herself using words like her Mum’s experience with cancer, her cancer journey. And this felt right.  And made a difficult situation a little easier.

It reminded me of a time when my eldest son was diagnosed with Leukaemia when he was five years old.  I can remember a making a conscious decision not to say he had cancer.  I always talked about him being treated for Leukaemia .  I still do.  It may have made no difference to anyone else but it helped me.  And that in turn helped my son and our family.  The organisation My Name is Not Cancer is based on the premise that the person is not the disease and that the experience of living with cancer does not have to define a person, however bad the situation may be.

The language we use, inside our heads and to the outside world can shape and change what we see and feel – both positively and negatively.  What language to do you use?  Is it helpful?  If not perhaps some small changes to the words we use can make a big difference.  As a challenge to yourself, pay some attention to the words and phrases you regularly use… I wonder what you will find!  Let me know…


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2 Responses to Shh…a word in your ear!

  1. Kieron Hill January 16, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    HI Chris,

    I remember being somewhat sceptical in the 80’s about whether the concentration on language in the debate on equality particularly in relation to Ethnicity would achieve anything. Yet again I found that they were right and I was wrong. By consciously using the words requested by those campaigning we showed that we supported them (vital in such campaigns), showed the general population that there were a growing number of people who disagreed with discriminating against people on grounds of ethnic origin and that therefore it was no longer culturally acceptable to do so. Great Blog and a good reminder for me.

    • Catherine Sandland January 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi Kieron, thank you for your comment. This is an interesting perspective on the use of language and a fascinating example. I was listening to a TED talk yesterday where a professor was saying that as well as agreeing that language affected our actions and perceptions, there were many cases where the reality of the world also affected the language and in some cases changed it ( or the meaning of it). he gave the example of the use of the word PRESIDENT. originally when this was bestowed on George Washington it was a meant to reinforce a lowly position. How this has changed!! This certainly gave me pause for thought .

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