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CYC-Online 130 DECEMBER 2009 / BACK
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Relationships matter: Bullfighter required

Karl Gompf

Lamenting on the good old days, my elderly landlady, Ethel, would say, “time brings it’s changes.” She was right. Time does bring change – and in some cases, none too soon. If alive today, she would not be impressed with the advent of the computer and the internet. Much too complicated and too troublesome to learn. The telephone and the typewriter were her “cup of tea” and she believed that any new technology should be left to the younger set. Furthermore, she did not hesitate to rant to those who would listen that the development of new technology is stupidity at it’s best, in a world not bordering on insanity, but already insane.

Ethel, however, would be impressed with certain aspects of the information available on the internet. She would be delighted to know that we now have a software program known as Bullfighter which searches documents for jargon and language that is unnecessary and/or ridiculously complex.

In a recent press release, the developers of Bullfighter, Deloitte Consulting, note that “if Corporate America wants to restore public trust, we need to start speaking and writing more clearly. Less empty rhetoric about openness, honesty and accountability, and more straight talk.” Can we recognize a good thing without mentioning Martha Stewart?

So Bullfighter will operate like the spell check feature. It scans for bull, flogs the author for using such ridiculous language, gives suggestions for clarity, and produces a Bull Composite score for the document. Further press releases highlight some of the most widely despised bull words and phrases: mission-critical, bandwidth, paradigm, leverage, leveragable (even spell check has trouble with this one), change agents, centre of excellence, incentivizing, repurpose.

Remove the bull and Corporate America will never be the same they say. Communication and performance will improve and the bottom line, making more money, will be enhanced. Straight talking company means straight ahead path to the bank.

Home truths
Now fast-forward (a phrase only on the edge of bull) to our Child and Youth Care profession and the concept of relationship. We don’t have Bullfighter but we surely do have bull. I once worked in a hospital setting with young people who apparently had a need to be seen by a psychiatrist. The language used and the reports written by the staff (trained in a medical model) were often unintelligible, unreadable, and filled with psychobabble. At first, it seemed to me that we were working with two different sets of kids. But no, same kid – same behaviour. Totally different interpretation. I despised the terms narcissistic, paranoid, manipulative, egomaniacal. Supposed treatment plans, developed by those who knew the child the least, were built around these words and meaningless concepts.

Outside the medical world, we may still find the same convoluted, jargonized way of speaking and writing. Yet we know that to establish meaningful relationships with kids (a friendly term), we need to be straight-talking, clear in our intentions, and genuine in order to reach our bottom line (a term close to bull), much more so than in the corporate world.

So, let’s get to work and develop the Child and Youth Care Relational Bullfighter. The Top Bull Terms that will regularly show up on our software and need to be modified or eliminated include:

Why client you ask? The term client infers that there is a customer-professional relationship. You the professional may remain distant, you are seen as the expert. I never liked it. Much more relevant to a relationship-based profession is the term that some Aboriginal organizations use – constituent. According to the authoritative Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the constituent is a “component part” in the helping relationship and “contributes to the whole.” Both parties are engaged – one is not exclusively serving the other.

And more bull: pathological, playing the system, consistency (at least define it), power and control, misconduct, expectation, psychosis. Add your favourites. With the Child and Youth Care Relational Bullfighter in place, surely our children, youth, and families will benefit. Communication will be clear and straightforward. Relationships will be meaningful and the “real” words of our profession will be de rigueur (no bull). Words such as respect, humour, intimacy, presence, belonging, courage, wholesome, healing, the needs of children – and even love will lead the way. In our world, we will not have to review organizations to determine the best for clarity in communication as they did in the corporate world, declaring Home Depot the winner. Our Child and Youth Care organizations, associations, college and university Child and Youth Care departments, and practitioners will all be winners. And so will their constituents.

My landlady Ethel would be proud and accepting of such a remarkable change in technology. You see she loved clear and loving language that told a story in the way it should be told, no jargon – no bull. In her own way, she was a Child and Youth Care bull fighter.

This feature: Gompf, K.(2003) Relationships matter: Bullfighter required. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice,16, 3.


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