Language matters


Diabetes Blog Week continues apace. I’ve loved reading all the different posts so far this week. A full roundup of participants can be found here & the I remain thankful to Karen of Bitter Sweet Diabetes without who’s idea & organisation this wouldn’t happen.

Today’s prompt is all about the language we use around diabetes & whther or not this matters.

My entire productive working adult life has been spent with beings who are just beginning to acquire a language. A fair proportion of my teaching work had to be executed with minimal linguistic input as often the main point of an exercise would be to master a physical skill that would improve their dexterity and enable them to garner more independence in their lives. If I had cluttered this experience with too much language, their focus would have strayed from the task in hand and instead alighted upon the words I spoke and how they interpreted them.

This demonstrates how important language is. It shapes our confidence and how we feel about ourselves in our formative years and beyond. A child who has only heard kind, encouraging and loving words in their life will likely be happy and comfortable in their own skin. Similarly, a child who is only exposed to negative language will very clearly show just how those words can crush a spirit and create a child full of doubt and sadness who may choose a myriad of ways to display this unhappiness with their own skin.  When teaching, my job as a directress was to build up the self reliance of the child. We didn’t indulge children with empty praise. Small children are very astute and quickly learn whether there is a sincerity to the words you’re using to describe the latest master piece they are dripping all over your lap. Understanding that the importance of many things a small child does is in the doing, and not the end product, helps you support them. They often have no interest in the painting once it is finished. Their joy, learning and satisfaction came from feeling the paint on the paper. How the bristles of the brush fanned out across the page the more pressure they applied. The way the colours could bleed into one another. Seeing what colour the paint would become if they added yet another colour to the already sodden painting. (Brown. Always brown. Always.) On the occasions a piece of work was presented to me, I would study it with interest and comment that they must be very proud of their work. These words help the child to look to themselves to see whether they are satisfied with their efforts. Not to perpetually seek approval from those around them. This self reliance is a wonderful trait to behold, and to this day I am still trying my hardest to master this skill.

For the power of language, and how that can permeate every inch of one’s being, should never be underestimated. I feel a tremendous responsibility when I write and talk about diabetes. I am very careful about the language I use. Very aware that I trespass upon this space. I know a little about diabetes and yet I know nothing of having diabetes. I understand that for some, the semantics and language used in the diabetes sphere is utterly trivial. For others, it is of the upmost importance. Often, those who have experienced the greatest wrongs are the ones for whom the language matters the most. For they carry the scars of language. Invisible to the outside world, and yet there for all to see. A throw away comment from a friend, a clinical phrase from an hcp, a sensational soundbite in the media, they all contribute to the additional mental element of managing diabetes. And some are able to shrug this off with ease. Others are not. This doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. It doesn’t make one stronger and the other weak. Just as building a child’s self reliance and confidence isn’t a one stop shop. It takes time and consistency.

So, as my starting point, I always use Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement – an excellent language resource to act as my guide. Its where I direct any journalist with whom I happen to cross swords with too. For if language doesn’t matter to you, hoorah! (Indeed, Pumplette will invariably refer to being “T1 diabetic”. However I would never describe her as such as I see her as so much more. But for her, telling you she is diabetic doesn’t equate to you knowing everything about her or that being the sum total of her worth. For her it is a factual transaction. I strongly suspect this feeling may change as she grows older and becomes a semantics fiend.)  But, if language does matter, and it cuts to the core to feel you’re being judged solely on the basis of one diagnosis, then it really doesn’t hurt the rest of us to step up and stop that ache. It costs nothing, but the impact will be far reaching and beautiful.

The ambition & confidence of self reliance 

5 thoughts on “Language matters

  1. I love this – I’m with Pumplette. Never been bothered to call myself a T1 diabetic and yet I know for others that would be a huge issue. I am one, can’t deny it, but it’s only a small part and describes me just as “Mum”, “Wife”, “accountant” and “singer” do. Will be interesting to see how her semantics and language use changes as she grows xxx

  2. Your post has reminded me how eternally grateful I am to you for introducing us to the world of Montessori teaching and how it helped our family shape our attitude to dealing with R’s condition. I hope he will never lose the quiet confidence and self-assurance those early days of pre-school education instilled in him. Thank you Annabel for being such an inspiring guide and great support during such an important milestone for any T1 parent and child-handing their care over to another person. We could not have wished for a better experience xxxx

  3. Your post has reminded me how eternally grateful I am to you for introducing us to the world of Montessori teaching and how it helped our family shape our attitude to dealing with R’s condition. I hope he will never lose the quiet confidence and self-assurance those early days of pre-school education instilled in him. Thank you Annabel for being such an inspiring guide and great support during such an important milestone for any T1 parent and child-handing their care over to another person. We could not have wished for a better experience xxxx

  4. Sorry reposted by mistake, still getting the gang of this WordPress malarkey 🙂 also don’t know why it keeps calling me sugarfreecookies? My blog is called glutenfreediabes? Guess things will come with practise! X

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