6/14 A Matter of Language

Ripples - Rethymnon 2009

I’m in a similar position as everyone else who finishes their day-job. I worked in the same disciplined fashion for over forty years and now I’ve stopped. I want to move on to other activities with a different way of working but my mind and body are still geared to my previous life. I am still thinking in “dentist language”.

The job was intense. My days were spent developing close professional relationships – closer than in many other occupations; not just intellectual relationships but relationships with strong physical and emotional elements too. You’ve been to the dentist, you know what I mean.

You might also recognise that the relationship your dentist has with you is different from that with the patient before you and different again from the patient after you. Indeed, it may be different with you from the last time you were there. A dentist spends the day riding a constantly shifting pattern of relationships. It is a deeply rewarding but intensely demanding career. After forty years, enough is enough.

As I keep mentioning, shaking it off is taking a little time. It is easy to slip back into ‘professional’ mode. Dentistry is about health, comfort, function and appearance. It covers a wide range of knowledge, skills and attitudes that spread well beyond the surgery. I won’t lose those interests, but I haven’t been away from them long enough to get used to this new way of using them.

And, as I begin to stand away, keeping a sharp look-out for rocks and shoals, I once again notice the language I am using – (the insistently nautical one!), and the way I am using it to describe my current situation.

The use of language has been a constant interest and increasing concern in the last few years because I – and I am sure many others in the health professions, have become increasingly aware that the language that we use in everyday practice has evolved away from the language we originally learnt to use to build trustworthy, one-to-one relationships – those relationships which we, as patients, reach out for when we seek professional help – (yes, I am a potential patient as well as a professional)

What I am describing is a natural evolution driven by the effects of modern life:

  • The complexity and expense of new technology;
  • New developments occurring at shorter and shorter intervals;
  • Each new development uncovering yet more challenges requiring still more solutions;
  • Each solution having little time to bed in before the next new solution takes over;
  • With the result that we are being pushed and pulled in different directions without fully understanding the issues;
  • Understanding comes from being fully informed. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of information we are presented with under the guise of transparency and clarity has created a situation in which transparency and clarity are beginning to lose meaning as they bemuse, confuse and ultimately inhibit the interest of those they are designed to inform;
  • And, crucially, the language and culture this invites directly affects the building of those above-mentioned one-to-one relationships between professionals and patients.

In the newspapers, on television and online the cry for solutions is increasingly driven by extreme language – language that excites the excitable and upsets the vulnerable, with the result that society appears to be increasingly moulded by seemingly random regulation monitored by self-propelled regulatory bodies who have developed a language entirely of their own.

And yet there is a navy of practitioners, consultants, nurses and managers out there with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to overcome this – to deal with the complexity of modern life while maintaining effective professional relationships with individual patients.

If we want to be treated as a civilised, trustworthy, caring society, then the right questions need to be put in a common language that we can all understand and join in resolving. The right questions come from the people on the ground. It is rediscovering a common language that is the problem.

In fact, the term ‘common language’ is misleading as it implies one language – I really mean a subtle mix of languages. I do not have a problem with different languages per se, but I do query the increasing dominance of languages that ignore the core language – the language of face-to-face human relationships.

In the next post, we will explore this in more detail.


Although it can be read as a single post, the above is part of a series that illustrates one of the author’s current interests, taken from a locker full of interests, at a major waypoint in his life. The series sets out as a comment on retirement before focusing around language. He wonders whether he himself has the language to cope as he steps out into the wider world popularly known as ‘retirement’ – an irreversible step into a world that he has previously only glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, a world in which he thinks the word ‘retirement’ to be a misnomer. He has used the medium of the blog to paint the picture. The irony is that, whereas writing about it does allow him to reflect, sitting alone at a computer actually distances him from the face-to-face interaction he is describing.

Tide - Torpoint 2006

One thought on “6/14 A Matter of Language

  1. Wow hart felt and meaningful reflections, I am still a long way to retirement at 40 I will probably not have the privatise but of a mind I don’t want to accept the consent sold by gambeling pension suppliers. Anyway regulator bodies peer review and the atmosphere of audit is crazy, how can we bring about change for the better? That is in a way my life mission. Bit so few seem to get it or make progress. The idea of selfawareness and usefully purpose of time and energy should be taut at school so we sack ourselves when productivity is simply silly.

    My uncle was a dentist in exmouth, Kenneth.

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