Opinion by Robin Youngson.
“Winning the war on cancer!”
“Winning the war on infections!”
“Winning the war on drugs!”
These are common rallying calls but perhaps we should be more conscious of the language we use?
Mother Teresa was once asked why she didn’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. She said, “I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
The language that we use powerfully shapes our thoughts and actions. And what we focus on comes into being, which is why Mother Teresa rallied for peace but never demonstrated against war.
Listen, for a moment, to the language we unconsciously use each day in healthcare. We talk about workforce and manpower. We manage workload and outputs. We are led by chief executive officers and director-generals of health. We implement strategies and execute plans. We use techniques and toolkits. We triage patients in the casualty department. And we shoot home the message by using bullet points on PowerPoint slides!
If we wish to create compassionate places of healing, we need to moderate our language and shift away from our unconscious assumptions of mechanistic control and authority. These expressions have infiltrated healthcare from the competitive world of big business. Are these the values we want in healthcare? What different kind of language could our leaders use to signal a shift?
These are the words I want to hear from my leaders because they will resonate with my heart and remind me why I came into healthcare: compassion, caring, understanding and loving kindness; collaboration, partnership, community and shared belonging; meaning, purpose and spirit.
When we declare war, we create opposition. When we command, we create resistance.
If instead we bring our mindful attention to our spirit and our words, we find a gentler way. There is a natural power for healing. The wise leader or physician or nurse knows how much can be achieved by so little, when there is alignment of words, thoughts and actions.