I was at a very interesting event today where we spent time looking at the proposed language to be used in some documents. Interesting insofar that the nuances of the English language are multifarious and abstruse. As is that last sentence as if to hammer home a point.
What was clear as mud is that language is very personal, it can divide and unite, it can inform and confuse and it can be a barrier to some a gateway for others.
In the social care field there is no set agreement on what to call those whom we work for, our service users, our clients, our residents, our customers or something entirely different. In the Adoption community there is a battle fought around what to label those who place their children for adoption and the adopted, what you call the women who gives birth to the child, the birthmother, the natural mother, the mother, the first mother.
I have seen these debates descend into bile throwing hurt fests online all because of words.
There is a need to use the simplest of language so that the greatest number of people find documents accessible. That been a given, how do we meld the language we use in daily discourse with the language we write for policy or is there a need to do that at all.
In social care when we say for example that our practice is based on an individuals need, that to us is simple enough, the problem lies in what sort of meaning can be construed from this if it is in a public document.
We must always be open to the challenge of wordiness, language , reportage, labelling, policy documents and human interactions as these are all very differing dialogues. We need to be sensitive to all these language pathways and to have the ability to challenge ourselves to allow understanding from all facets of society.
What is your meaning in what you are saying? If you’re being asked that question then maybe you have already failed…..
Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of the Social Care workers Registration Board at CORU, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.