The power of words and how they’re used makes a big difference

Isn’t it time that we start recognizing the importance of that? There sure is a lot of discourse in discussions about homelessness, addiction, and crime happening as a result of the significant crisis we face here in Nanaimo. I can only speak for myself, but I can understand why it gets so divisive at times hearing the extreme ends of the scale presenting views in markedly disrespectful and/or offensive ways – whether they are in support or opposed, or somewhere in between.

This post is about trying to get past that and starting to shift things into a more constructive path forward in conversations that are had. I provide some tools to help do that below.

Sometimes it’s not on purpose, but often it is. Either way, it does get a bit exhaustive hearing the same vitriolic words being repeated over and over by those at both ends of the scale, doesn’t it? At times, it almost seems like some believe this is the way to overcome the situation – “to win?” – but in reality, it’s not helpful and rarely (if ever) accomplishes anything positive – or anything at all for that matter other than expanding the divide. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to understand that these expressions are more often than not bound in frustration, anger, lashing out, and personal experiences that have shaped one’s views – but understanding that doesn’t make it any better.

If you are a person who sees this health crisis as being relatively straightforward, black and white, and see either a whole bunch of enabling or a whole bunch of dehumanizing happening – you can click here to get right to the content that might be of further interest to you.

For those that don’t see this as being straightforward, here’s some other things to consider before getting to some resources that can help things along further at a variety of levels.

Is it fair to assume that most of us realize that we’re in the midst of an enormous health crisis and the reality is that it isn’t going to stop anytime soon – and it’s actually good that it remains in focus – even though many of the conversations tend to divide rather than achieve anything positive? I believe that most people are looking at it from a rational perspective and recognize that it’s a complex issue where there is no “right side” – that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and that there are simply many pieces which need attention.

So my focus is in on one of those pieces, which is that the power of words and how they are used can make a big difference.

Supportive housing and temporary shelters are very different

I read an interesting op-ed on NanaimoNewsNow about the temporary sheltering locations on Labieux and Terminal last week that brought up some great points. It made me think about things a bit more and consider my usage of terms – am I guilty of using language which incorrectly connects the concept of supportive housing, with the temporary sheltering that was setup as an emergency response to the escalating crisis of tent city? I had a look through my blog posts and didn’t see any connection like that in them. Good!

However, that’s not to say I haven’t used this language around those locations at some point – it’s definitely possible. So I am not claiming innocence here, nor am I condemning anyone who have called these locations that. It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into – especially since that is exactly what the province termed it as – “temporary supportive housing”, when these emergency plans to provide shelter were rapidly put together.

That doesn’t make it right though, nor does it make anything better – I fully agree with the author of the op-ed, that the term being used is harming what people think “supportive housing” actually is; the temporary locations are not representative of that. Note that he didn’t actually say that directly, but the essence of that point is pretty clear.

So how do we start changing this language issue?

Some questions came to me after this such as – how can we can actually start to change our language in ways that can begin to reduce the very tiring extremities of this that are often articulated? And how can we start turning things around naturally so that conversations can become less divisive, add perspective, and possibly even become productive towards starting to build bridges rather than burning them?

I revisited some of the documents I have archived on this subject, and realized that many in the community might actually be ready to start discussing this in a more rational manner – I mean, it’s a given that we all want the current circumstances to change – but perhaps some could use some ideas towards helping do that. If that is the case, it seems to me that an opportunity exists now to start undoing some of the backwards progress and damage that inaction and insufficient communication has brought, and get to the next step – and I think that an opportunity exists through the presentation of words – to show a commitment towards trying to understand each other, and using words that help bridge that gap.

I have dug up three specific resources to post in this – three resources which if utilized and considered in conversation – can help start to discussing things in different ways where voices can begin to understand each others at different levels.

How I have arranged these next sections containing the resources is in a way that gradually increases in complexity, in relation to involvement that one may or may not have with this subject.

Do you know a little or a lot about homelessness, addiction, and mental health – and what the results are?

This is not a plug. This is a genuine resource that I urge you to consider reviewing with your full attention. On February 23rd at 8pm, CHEK TV, Island Health and the Victoria Foundation are sponsoring a commercial free broadcast premiere of a very relevant documentary called “Us and Them” along with a panel discussion.

They have made it a commercial free broadcast because of the importance of this subject. They describe it as a film that is bound to change attitudes, policies, and most importantly, lives.

I completely agree and would describe it similarly. In Nanaimo, it will be on channel 6 for Shaw subscribers, and channel 121 for Telus subscribers.

I cannot understate how well done and informative this film is – it’s really quite something. No matter what your knowledge level or stance is on this subject – you will get some important takeaways from it for yourself.

Have I piqued your interest? If you don’t want to wait, well, you don’t have to! If you would like to watch the film before then, you can rent or purchase the film itself at this link. However, please note that the film does not include the panel discussion that will take place on the CHEK TV broadcast.

I hope you will take the time to watch the broadcast – I know I will be, even though I have already viewed the film. I can promise you that your time will be well spent if you do.

Do you know about or have heard of reducing stigma, and could you potentially utilize some more information about that?

This is a good time to make sure you aren’t perpetuating it yourself and review some tips to avoid faux pas. That way, whatever your stance is around this – you can approach it in a way that is more likely to resound with those who you are engaging in debate with, and have a better chance to influence opinion.

Here is a short 6 page pdf titled “How Language Choice Can Reduce Stigma” which helps explain what stigma is all about – how it works (and doesn’t), why it’s important to reduce it, and it provides some good tips that you can utilize to make sure you aren’t perpetuating it or losing the importance of what you are really trying to articulate.

For leaders, advocates, supporters, and the media: Are you committed to helping make positive progress on this very difficult and complex issue?

This document is much longer than a few pages, but it’s an actual toolkit towards helping reduce stigma. If you are a leader, advocate, supporter, or part of the media that is serious about helping reframe things and moving things forward in positive ways – I think you will find this to be valuable.

Time to wrap it up

For those of you that made it this far and are going through the resources – that is fantastic! I hope they are of help to you. I would also like to ask you – do you have any thoughts or resources to share regarding the topic of reducing stigma or other related information? I would really like to check them out if you’re willing to share!


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply