Adjectives Are Meaningless


I watched a programme on BBC 2 over Christmas called ‘Pilgrimage, The Road to Rome’.

It was about a bunch of celebrities walking an old pilgrimage route to Rome to meet the pope.

One of the celebrities, Stephen K Amos, had a personal agenda; he was determined to challenge the Catholic Church’s apparent traditionally disapproving stance on same sex relationships.

When he arrived in Rome and impressively found the courage of his convictions, the pope picked up on the fact that Steven had introduced himself as a “gay man”, and expressed his belief that he is loved, and that adjectives used to describe people are meaningless, as everyone is equally loved. He explained; “It is not good to privilege the adjective (“gay”) over the noun (“man”). Each of us is a person, has a dignity. If this person is like this or has an attitude like this or has a tendency like this, this does not detract from his dignity as a person.”

Steven talked afterwards about feeling profoundly accepted, and as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He commented, “He gave me faith in humanity. He knows his response to my question … will have ramifications around the world,”

This struck a chord with me as a solution focused practitioner.

As well as an awareness that the answer to any question has ramifications, conversing in a solution focused way, I believe, requires the worker to adopt a similar perspective to that expressed by the pope in that instance; the client is simply viewed as another person.

In this context any adjective used to describe the client is meaningless and unconnected to the client’s desired outcome from the work.

Whether the worker is meeting with, for example, a ‘depressed man’, an ‘anxious woman’, a ‘chaotic child’, a ‘psychotic man’, a ‘black woman’ a ‘gay man’, or a ‘Chinese student’, it makes no difference to the questions the worker will ask; they’ll simply ask the next question based on what the client said in response to the last one, being careful to ensure that the question being asked is related to the client’s stated hopes.

Basing our communication on a set of assumptions arising from the perceived implications of adjectives, by definition introduces discrimination.

We can choose instead to adopt different assumptions, arising from a recognition of human commonality.

This means that no matter who we meet, what they’ve been through in the past, and whatever adjectives might be used to describe them, we view them in the same, constructive way.

By doing this, we can avoid discrimination, judgement and misrepresentation.

There’s a line in the first chapter of ‘More Than Miracles, The State of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy’ by Steve de Shazer, Yvonne Dolan (2007); ‘There is a general assumption that people have within them strong resiliencies, and can utilize these to make changes.’

From such a stance, what is inevitably communicated is simply acceptance, trust and belief in the client’s ability to find a way to live a future life aligned with their hopes.

Crucially, as with the love that the pope spoke about believing in, it is the absolutely unconditional nature of the worker’s choice about how to view another person that contains such profound potential.

I personally believe that it’s this chosen and maintained stance, carefully and respectfully communicated, that can provide the greatest catalyst for positive change.

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