Why positive words aren’t always good words

19th September 2013 | Posted in Content creation

We’ve been having a bit of a “discussion” on our Twitter feed for WhenTheyGetOlder, our web site for people supporting ageing parents. We were talking about an article around helping parents to feel they aren’t a burden, when there is a great temptation sometimes for them to feel like they are.

Our Twitter correspondent took us to task about the double negative. We should be using a positive, she argued. She wanted us to write about helping our parents to feel …. and she wanted us to fill in the dots. And yes, we could talk about helping them to feel valued or treasured or important – whatever word she likes – but I help feeling that’s then missing the point.

If someone feels they are a burden, then changing the words won’t change the situation. 

Writing about elder care means we talk about issues where people are very sensitive about the words that are used. We get tied in knots sometimes wondering if we’re OK to say someone suffers from a condition, or if we should be talking about living with it instead.

The word elderly itself is a nightmare. Try setting up a Google alert for news about “elderly” and pretty well all you get is stories about people from 60 upwards being scammed, having driving accidents or being caught in house fires. So with all those connotations we do try to use more positive words.

I suspect if we were operating elsewhere in the world we wouldn’t get ourselves quite so exercised by all this. In France last week we saw a sign over the till that translated into “Priority given to old women, those with young children and the handicapped.” I wonder how that would have gone done here. But it says what it means.

The trouble with positivity and changing is that it doesn’t fix the problem – it just makes it look less of a problem. If we at WhenTheyGetOlder are going to provide valuable advice and helpful support, then we need to be honest. And that means not covering up the issues with sweet words, but telling it like it is.

Real questions and real answers.

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