By Dr David Laing Dawson
Poets choose words for their rhythm and sound as well as their meaning. And for a poet, that can be a meaning implied or suggested, with the rhythm, sound, and suggested meaning creating a whole that invokes a new thought and feeling, or an old thought expressed more cogently.
If a poet were to choose the word “issue” she might choose it for its vowels and sibilants and its suggestion of movement or controversy.
But when we are trying to convey information in an essay, a news article or a political statement the actual meaning of the word chosen is paramount. But that word can be chosen not as a poet might, but rather to obscure, to obfuscate, to euphemize, to negate, and even to simply shore up the speaker’s credentials.
Unfortunately words get used this way and somehow creep into our regular lexicon for decades at a time. And when used this way for a decade, by politicians, reporters and editors, we are all protected from the truth, from factual information about ourselves and others.
The word “issue” is just one of those words. I am tired of hearing it used to obscure or soften reality.
Recently, two senior Canadian politicians resigned from their positions in order to seek treatment for “addiction issues.” It turns out that one of them may actually be addicted to alcohol or drugs, but even this was an obfuscation of the real problem of “inappropriate sexual activity”. Now even this is a silliness. “Inappropriate sexual activity” is the couple making out in the back seat of the bus from Toronto to Hamilton. But sexual harassment, intimidation, or assault are more than “inappropriate”.
The other, it turns out, has been sexting and sharing nude pics of himself over the internet and got caught in a blackmail scam.
In one of these cases the word “issue” obscures what might be alcoholism or drug addiction. In both of these cases “having issues” and “seeking treatment” obscures some stupid immature behaviour and does a disservice to people who “seek treatment” for actual illness.
We can forgive both of these men for acting in a stupid, immature fashion, but neither should ever be elected to office again. For both of these men there is no treatment beyond someone shouting at them, “For God’s sake, what were you thinking?”
And this is the real problem with constant use of the term “mental health issues”, as in “has” or “is seeking treatment for”:
On one hand it manages to endlessly widen the scope of human follies, behaviours and struggles to which we do not assign personal responsibility, while at the same time obscuring and denying the existence of true, serious mental illness, and conversely and perversely assigning people who suffer from these illnesses personal responsibility for their illnesses.
Both Terry Fox and I have leg health issues. Mine are a problem of aging joints and lack of exercise. His was, of course, cancer.