Monday, June 11, 2012

A bit about me, and power words

I've reread my blog posts recently and realise they look pretty "negative". This doesn't sit well with the current fashion to "think positive" which (coincidentally ?) resides as a meme of the privileged or less oppressed. I believe that the less fortunate or wealthy you are, the less likely you are to naturally assume/resume the positive thinking "state". (Am I wrong here? Perhaps this is worth checking out more) Anyway, on review I am fairly happy with what I have written, and I am by no means a pessimist... I am more of an optimistic pessimist. Michael White once said to a group of us in discussion "I believe the world is pretty stuffed, so that frees me up to do what I think is helpful" ( maybe not a word for word quote, but that was his message..) I concur.

Anyhow, it is worth sharing a little more about myself before I launch into how I think we use language to exert and maintain power relationships, and how our very language of English hands us the loaded gun and we don't often realise we are firing off continuous salvos at all and sundry, especially those we love.

I am a 53 year old Caucasian male currently working as an academic in Geelong, a provincial city in Victoria, Australia. As such I believe I would be perceived as coming from a dominant gender, racial group and professional group. I am married to a female general practitioner and we have two children. As such I represent a dominant social group (the family) which has been defined as the norm, and as a self defined heterosexual I come from another dominant group which has oppressed and excluded non-heterosexuals. As an Australian of European extraction, I represent Western culture and its lifestyle, a dominant culture with a history of colonisation and displacement or extinguishment of other cultures and their practices.

A statement of my intentions. I hope that by writing i might encourage others to consider possible power practices they might unwittingly be exerting and that in some small way this will lead to a general reduction in the prevalence of abusive use of power.

Significant stimulation to write came years ago after I read "The verbally abusive relationship" by Patricia Evans and from discussions relating to the politics of power in a narrative therapy course. I also acknowledge Michael White as the source for me of numerous ideas espoused here. I have had several opportunities to discuss these ideas with women, individually or in groups, many of whom were "my" patients. I developed an interest in male experience and have had several prolonged interactions with men separating, or separated from their spouses. Thus much of the descriptions relate to gender relationships. My discussions with people who would identify as gay have profoundly educated me about many cultural prejudices we perpetuate. Some of my ideas have doubtless been influenced by working in a Western Desert aboriginal community for 6 months in 1986

Ok.. Enough about me for now.. More later when I feel a little braver about revealing my own frailties (hypocrisy is a big one)..

Back to power words... Let's start with a list. I will elaborate in forthcoming blogs.

I believe the following words are potentially oppressive, and at worst are dangerous and mental illness generating

1. Words that privilege one reality. Eg: "Actually", "really", "in fact", "in reality" and even "realise"

2. Words which define another's reality (generally following "you" Eg: "you deliberately....". "You think"

3. Words which attribute responsibility rather than share it. "You misunderstood me"

4. Words which measure others comparatively: "Too". "over-....." or "under-.. Eg: "You're over-reacting" "Enough" " inappropriate" "extreme", "inadequate".

5. Diminishing or excusing words "Only", "just" "All". As in "all you were doing was..."

6. Words which devalue non reason-related responses: "unreasonable" "emotional" "over involved" "enmeshed" "irrational" "That's nonsense", "..ridiculous", "..preposterous" "..idiotic", "..senseless" etc.

7. Words used to prevail over others. "But "

8. Threatening words. "If" "or else" .

9. Coercive words. "Should" "Ought to" "got to" or "must".

10. Words which spoil identity. They also often are preceded by "You are"

11. Words which disable. "can't"

12. Words used to assume agency. "To". The simple exclamation mark, while not a word can be abusive when used as a command without seeking consent.

13. Words which denigrate protest. For example. "nagging" "whingeing" "complaining" "squawking" "carrying on" "squealing" "whining" and so on.

14. Totalising words. "always" "absolutely"

15. Implications, insinuations. These are the words that are not said. .....More to come... Stay tuned



  1. Yeah, I'm a bit dubious about that third sentence too. Definitely worth looking into more. I've known a lot of bitter, miserable, privileged people, and indefatigably positive, sunshiny, disadvantaged people.

  2. Yes I agree Lady Demelza. What I mean to raise was that in the face of ongoing unavoidable suffering ( due to poverty, illness or whatever) it's hard to have faith that it'll be alright whereas privilege can instil more confidence that a better outcome is possible. I hate the idea that "if you try hard enough anything is possible" because for some people this isn't true. I agree I could have expressed this better