When words fail

3_editorialJournalists and communications specialists are immersed in a world of words. We recognise the power of carefully chosen, well nuanced words. So too do government departments…remember Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.

However, an article in last month’s news read like an excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison issued written instructions to departmental and detention centre staff to publicly refer to asylum seekers as ‘illegal’ arrivals and ‘detainees’.

This deliberate change of language is as much about brainwashing us as it is demonising the stateless person.

I had the privilege of working with a national NGO in Rwanda post-genocide. The group that stirred up the country to a point of hatred of one tribe against another had run a deliberate radio campaign for several months prior to the slaughter, of describing the Tutsi people as ‘cockroaches’ (the Kinyarwandan language equivalent).

We must not let our Government be so cavalier with words. It is not illegal to seek asylum.

Journalists can be attracted to abbreviated language – it makes great headlines, it reinforces stereotypes and it causes controversy, which sells papers. For example, we use ‘disgraced’ to describe both individuals and organisations who are often well known, and have fallen over in some way – disgraced footballer, Ben Cousins; disgraced entrepreneur Steve Vizard; disgraced company AWB.

See how quickly you remember the story? In the midst of those headlines we forget that they are describing real people with families, who have been trying to move on with their lives. In the space of three carefully chosen words all their chequered history comes flooding back.

The moderator reflects on words in his column. Many words have been received by the synod in the past few weeks since the announcement of the divestment of properties. Crosslight explores a little of the pain and grief being experienced by those congregations in the centre of the decision.

As the Church community seeks to make sense of the loss of property and place, many words, some nurturing, some hurtful, and some full of deep, deep sadness, grief and anger, are being expressed. Can we all seek to be gentle? To care for one another. Uphold each other in prayer. And remember that at the receiving end of those words is another human being who also feels hurt and pain and grief.

By Penny Mulvey

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