Ending the Language of Violence
The featured Editor’s Pick article that appeared today is titled “The Language of Violence in Mental Health: Shifting the Paradigm to the Language of Peace” by Marion Alex, RN, MN, CNM; Joanne Whitty-Rogers, PhD, RN and Wendy Panagopoulos, RN, BScN. Using a descriptive philosophical approach, the authors discuss connections between and among the concepts of peace, health, relational ethics in relation to nurses’ responsibilities, current health care realities, and the language of nursing. The authors have shared the following background of their work together:
This article began quite simply with a conversation among us about language in nursing– from the use of slang, to concerns that some nursing diagnoses were inappropriate and resembled judgments about people (e.g. ‘noncompliant patients with
ineffective coping’). What began as a casual conversational sharing of ideas and frustration triggered a journey into discourse analysis that involved the history of language and etymology, philosophy of language, nursing theories that involve communication, relational ethics in nursing, and critical social theory. We searched and found example after example of words used in everyday language in health care, and the more we explored, the more we found! Many examples originated in the medical or nursing literature, but we also found that we could ‘mine the wealth’ of our collective experiences in nursing practice over several decades.
We also discovered a ‘common denominator’: most of the examples of disrespectful or hurtful language, and negative labeling were ascribed to vulnerable populations: women and children, the frail elderly, and those experiencing significant mental distress.
Thus, we organized our writing to address these populations — easily generating well over 50 pages of example-rich philosophical discussion. Dr. Chinn graciously provided the opportunity to publish two related articles rather than making the painful cuts! Our first, Time to disable the labels that disable: The power of words in nursing and health care with women, children, and families, provided examples of labeling in everyday health care, in slang and in ‘accepted’ medical and nursing diagnoses. We asserted that discourse analysis has power; we have the power to name, and the power to un-name. Shifting language can shift imagery, shifting imagery can shift attitudes, and shifting attitudes can shift practices.
This publication was originally intended to simply be ‘part 2’ when we found another ‘common denominator’ to the examples. The hurtful ones consistently conveyed a stance of power over a more vulnerable other. Here, Dr. Chinn’s masterpiece publication Peace and Power provided an “aha” moment and framework for what we
were trying to say — that disrespectful language is a form of spoken violence. Moreover, respect is foundational to peace within all relationships, be they between and among individual people, within families, or among nations. The mental health and crippling relational effects of violence — in warfare, racism, family violence, school bullying, or workplace acrimony — were clear to us. But what also occurred to us was how seldom the word PEACE is used in contemporary health care discourse. Nursing claims a philosophical orientation to compassion, caring, advocacy, and social justice ‒ building blocks towards the sharing of humility, humanity, and deep spiritualism that we understand as peace.
The neighborhoods and the planet we share are crying out for peace. As all the articles in this edition so poignantly point out, peace is intricately linked to health. Nurses commonly claim to promote health. The challenge now is to show that what we do while promoting health is also promoting peace.
The journey of writing this article has sincerely been an inspirational experience for us, and an ‘eye-opener’ to what has been, and continues to be, the power of language to power or disempower peace. Thank you for reading our blog.
This is article can inspire fundamental shifts in nursing and health care! to download your copy at no charge, visit the ANS web site while it is featured!