In this reflection for the CatholicCare Sydney staff newsletter for October 2015, Sandie Cornish considers the importance of the language that we use to speak about people and policy matters. We need to take Pope Francis’ lead and choose language that is loving, liberating and truthful.
How we speak about people, events and situations is very important. Our words can express respect, hospitality, care and compassion. They can frame and interpret events and judge people. Our words can be a sign and an expression of Christ’s loving and liberating presence in the world – or not. We are very aware of this at an interpersonal level, and it is reflected in the way in which CatholicCare staff speak to and about the people who access our services.
We are not always so conscious of the importance of words when we move to the social or policy level. Sometimes we adopt words without a lot of thought when we are entering a conversation that someone else has started. For example, the National Disability Insurance Scheme speaks about individualized funding. This is a positive policy, but wouldn’t it be better for us to speak of personalized funding? Our person-centred approach reminds us that no one is ever really just an individual. We are always persons in community. The wellbeing of family members who provide care to people with disability is also a consideration in decisions about how best to use available funding. NDIS acknowledges this but its language doesn’t keep it in view.
The language of ‘boat people’, ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘migrants’ frames the situation of people on the move with legal, economic and cultural assumptions that may not be true. It is not illegal to arrive in Australia without authorization in order to seek asylum. Syrians fleeing for safety are forcibly displaced, not simply choosing to migrate. As CatholicCare becomes more involved in assisting displaced people from Syria and elsewhere, we may need to learn some new technical language from international humanitarian law and human mobility studies. Most importantly, we need to choose language that is loving, liberating, and truthful.