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By Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

A rose by any other name might smell like garlic

The late Sister Theresa of Calcutta slums fame, was asked by some reporters, “Sister, you always have such a positive attitude. Do you not have any problems?” Her reply? “Yes, like everyone else, I do, but I rename them. I call them gifts.”

In sociology, we are aware that the language we learn determines our reality. This is called is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

From the time of the books, Animal Farm, and 1984, the world has known that governments can rename departments and events to change our perspective on interpreting them. Orwell called this “Newspeak.” In more recent times, we call it spin doctoring, where governments engaged in shameful or nefarious activities, rename those activities to defuse the negative public reaction.

The term “collateral damage,” for example, invented by the American Government, is used to identify the killing and maiming of innocent people standing by, including women, children, and other non combatants, when there is some bombing in civilian areas. These negative examples show how the phenomenon can be used for wrong purposes. Since the phenomenon is known, however, there is no reason why we cannot use them for right reasons.

There are always problems during mobilization. Volunteers and contributors promise and fail. People do not show up to meetings. Information is mis communicated. People with vested interests (in the old unfair ways) sabotage community empowerment initiatives. Persons with partial understanding lf the methodology, use the misinformation to undermine the work of the mobiliser. Rumours based upon superstitious and ignorant fears are created and spread. Some human rights goals are thought to be antagonistic to respect for tradition and culture.

If you, as a mobiliser, do what Sister Theresa did, give those problems new names, they may seem less overwhelming, may seem more expected and understood, may seem less threatening to your work. “Gifts” is a good name, or you may find any other useful word to use before you accept a problem as one you will handle.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.03.23

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