Sunday, 12 March 2017

Another word about being a superhero - orenda

I had forgotten what it is like living in the same home as 2 superheroes. 3 times last week I came home to find Batman and Spiderman, (aged 5 and 3 respectively) full of exciting news of how they had spent the day. There was even an occasional visit from the Hulk and Captain America. Heart-warmingly, these superheroes still liked to sit and watch Peter Rabbit on the TV. Despite the noisy excitement, I enjoyed them being here and the house was very quiet after they went. 

I also enjoyed being part of this years celebration of International Women’s Day last Wednesday. At the University, the celebrations included the launch of the University of Salford Women’s Voice group. There were quite a few superheroes to be seen in the room, and it was great to see the group so well supported – and I sense their voice will quickly become a powerful one. 

Last Wednesday the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, made his Spring Budget statement. One of the measures he announced was a £30m package of support for women. This included £5m to fund events marking the centenary of women’s suffrage; and £20m to tackle domestic violence and abuse. The 2015 Crime Survey for England and Wales reported that over 8% of women and 4% of men had experienced some form of violence or abuse in the previous 12 months – equivalent to 1.3m female and 600,000 male victims. In 2017 these statistics are just unacceptable and it was good to see additional resources being made available to help tackle this situation. There was also £5m to fund ‘returnships’ for parents who have been out of the workforce.

returnships’ was a new word for me, and I like collecting new words. I have long been fascinated by where words come from and how words are used. I also like finding ways of introducing words into the every-day conversations and narratives of those I work with or come in contact with. I am amused when these words are used back at me, often, I think without the user knowing what it is they are doing. 

Sometimes it can take a while – recently it took me 2 weeks to get the word ‘surface’ (as in - make visible) into colleagues conversations, whereas last Thursday it took me just 2 hours to get the word ‘nested’ (as in – to fit inside another) transposed from a telephone conversation into an official report exploring how disparate but similar parts might coalesce around a global challenge.

The local challenge is one of lexicalisation. This is process of getting new words and their meanings into widespread usage and with shared understanding. Children, of course as they develop their vocabulary and self-confidence (and often through the use of neologisms) can introduce new words into everyday conversation. Last week, Spiderman proudly told us he had ‘closeded’ the door instead of ‘I’ve closed the door’, and before long we were all using it! 
And my fascination with words got a real fillip this week when I discovered the work of Tim Lomas (from the University of East London – also worth a look is their recently published map of prescriptions for people living with Schizophrenia). Delightfully, Lomas’s ‘Positive Lexicography Project’ aims to capture the way good feelings are expressed across the world in the hope we might start using these words in our everyday conversations. And in so doing, perhaps gaining a richer and more nuanced understanding of ourselves, and learn to see the world in a new and different way.

I really liked mbuuki-mvuki (the Bantu term capturing the irresistible urge to shuck off your clothes as you dance); and uitwaaien (the Dutch word describing the revitalising effects of taking a walk in the wind; and the Japanese word shinrin-yoku (the meaning of which is the relaxation that can be gained from bathing in the forest, either figuratively or literally). After walking on the beach, the forests are where I feel most at peace. If all this talk of words has left you bemused, just think about the research of Marc Brackett. He is the founding Director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and Professor in the Child Study Centre at Yale University. His research has found that teaching 10 and 11 year old children a richer emotional vocabulary improved their performance and achievement at School and promoted better behaviour around others.  

And this blog posting is dedicated to my recently successful PhD student Seham, who as I write this, is making her way back home to Saudi Arabia. Her study explored the notion of professional stigma exhibited by mental health professionals whilst providing care for those with mental health problems. It was an brilliantly brave and challenging study. She embodied the Finnish concept of sisu – a kind of extraordinary determination in the face of all adversity. Our ideas of resilience and perseverance doesn’t come anywhere near the Finnish notion of sisu. I wish her well as she returns to Saudi Arabia to carry on her work.

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