Tag Archives: language

The slow burn of destruction

While there are no longer any doubts that domestic violence is truly ‘in play’ when physical evidence is apparent, many of us, still maintain ‘false truths’ about the breadth and depth of this type of violence.

There is a deep sadness and an overwhelming fear, that all women harbour, when confronted with a ‘sister’ who is ‘sporting’ a black eye, split lips or finger bruises on her arms.

Perhaps our language is to blame, for this is no ‘sport’.

Maybe like myself, you have witnessed domestic violence and not intervened. Walking in similar shoes, can leave you too traumatised to act for another.

With the advent of the internet, information can be sourced so easily. There are plenty of resources and support services to assist those that feel that their lives are being controlled by the intervention of another.

If you think that you maybe at risk, you can test yourself for ‘early signs’ of domestic violence here:

http://www.dvrcv.org.au/knowledge-centre/quizzes/quiz-warning-signs

The violence of denigration is a too subtle weapon. Sometimes, there is no ‘verbal judo’, there is just a one sided attack.

Recently returning from interstate travel, a young urban couple with their two small sons, waited in the queue, in front of Greg and I. There was a long delay. Seriously, it would have tested the patience of Job.

I thought it curious, that these young boys looked only to their father, for reassuring approval when testing boundaries. A stern look was all it took for them to immediately cease what they were doing and wait quietly.  Later on after waiting in line became too torturous, the boys sought comfort from their father directly, avoiding their mother.

She remained withdrawn and quiet. She kept eye contact with the boys and would smile and occasionally when he wasn’t looking, wink. The young couple appeared to be quite fit and healthy, although she was noticeably thin. I noted that when she did respond to her children, she did so in a quiet calm voice,  in order not to gain any attention from him.

On the way to the plane, she accidentally dropped the tickets. It was then that he launched, what could only be described as a subtle but persistent verbal attack.

He mocked her capability to hold onto the tickets.  Reminding her that they would need them to board the plane. He asked her ‘if he needed to hold the tickets for her’. He said, that she was clearly incapable. His tone was not one of loving concern.

He spoke to her like she was a toddler. He framed his words slowly. He edged them with sarcasm.  He persisted, mocking and belittling her.

For a brief moment, she told him to ‘shut up’ in a quiet voice. Perhaps she felt protected by the crowd of people around her?  Maybe she was close to cracking?

If I pointed out this young Caucasian couple, with their expensive travel luggage and well dressed children,  you would have thought it unlikely. But all the signs were there.

I looked at this woman. She wore beige pants and beige shirt, no make-up, no jewellery except her wedding ring. The only thing that she appeared to be in control of was her weight. Her bones screamed that on this account, she was victorious.

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Language holding court in the dark halls of fear

Cancer is depicted as an alien invader or a cellular mutiny that occurs when a rouge cell refuses to decommission when faulty or at the end of its lifecycle. Once your immunity defences have been breached, it quickly becomes a series of battles in a war with reduced odds of survival.

Recently a University of Michigan study involving 313 people explored the impact of the selection of metaphors that are often used by the medical profession when referring to cancer.  Fight and battle are among the top 10 verbs used to describe cancer.

I remember hurtling, face first into the sticky grey mist of opinions and damned statistics, desperately trying to weigh up treatment options and while attending multiple specialist appointments that were booked as a matter of protocol rather than user choice.

I had boarded the roller coaster ride that was often cheerily described as a ‘journey’. I vehemently rebelled at the use of this metaphor to describe my new reality. I met others during my experience with cancer, who felt the same.

Is it cynical to suggest that the use of such metaphors supports more aggressive treatments, like blasting the alien invader with high-dose chemotherapy or radiotherapy? Are you simply frightened into treatments by the use of language?

The findings of the University of Michigan, confirmed that the metaphors that are used by the medical profession, in a large part influence how people perceive disease and the treatments to use in defense and in the preventive actions to take, to avoid the disease.

This is of particular interest in the case of early detection which often results in smaller cancer tumours and lesions. There is a defining dash between small lesions, that require no chemotherapy and those larger than 1 cm. I sat perfectly on the borderline. So out came to use of descriptors of ‘high grade’, and ‘triple negative’ to encourage me to undergo chemotherapy.  I sought a second opinion, which is akin to seeking guidance about sexual abuse from the Catholic Church. My original regime was altered though, and after dose one of the ‘big guns’, I ended up in hospital for 5 days fighting for my life.

As a wordsmith, I am acutely aware of the use of language to emotionally manipulate and to support arguments. My questioning of the ethical use of such metaphors by my specialists, did not win me any friends or favours. I believe however, that truth and intent is often found like crumbs, left behind, from the words that are spoken.

A measured approach that incorporates life style changes, including nutritional strategies of low sugar/low fat diets and the cessation of smoking,  alcohol/ pharmaceutical drug intake and the uptake of exercise, meditation and quality sleep, is the complementary approach to any surgical intervention. Yet, when cancer is depicted as war, battles are lost and won, survivors are born scarred by the experience, warriors are immortalised or vanquished, and the machine of medicine has a narrative that supports the current modalities of the pharmaceutical industry.