Doublespeak is a term invented by George Orwell in his seminal work 1984 which describes a dystopian world in which a totalitarian state partially controls its subjects through the use of language.
Semantics is a rather academic term relating to language, the relationship between words and how they are applied to generate understanding or make us feel a certain way.
In Orwell’s world, the state created doublespeak, a way of dumbing down or de-sensitising certain words because of their emotional connotations.
It was such a powerful concept that it has had the opposite effect to that Orwell intended, Or looked at another way, his prediction has come true.
Ironically PR companies and modern political institutions have adopted doublespeak to numb people to the unpalatable or to fool them into supporting something or someone they probably wouldn’t if they were truly aware of their motives or the implications..
We’re surrounded by language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.
Think of euphemisms used at work, e.g., “downsizing” for sackings, in the military “servicing the target” rather than bombing or “collateral damage” rather than dead civilians. It is meant to make the truth sound more palatable, to stop people rebelling.
Doublespeak can also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning. An example is where lawyers use terms like “harrassment” as it has a multitude of applications that can be applied to any number of ends reliant upon the interpretation of a third party. This makes it useful as a net to cover a variety of offences. But it also lays it open to abuse by the unscrupulous.
In both applications, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth either because the intention is unpalatably malevolent or to create confusion and doubt.
But often, in family law, doubt can make a huge difference, like if someone of excellent character suddenly has to try to defend themselves and their children and their relationship in an arena that is so emotionally charged because what was the most natural thing in the word has suddenly been made something they have to beg to third parties to fulfil.
Family Law should be the most user-friendly of all branches of law given it is directly concerned with the most vulnerable of subjects, people, human beings. But it is packed full of doublespeak and complex semantics.
Here are just a few examples. I’m sure you can think of many more:
- contact (usually referring to a third party’s adjudication of a loved one’s allowable time with their own child)
- access (similar to the above but extended to include the extent to which they may be allowed to influence their own child’s life through decision making etc)
- parenting time (a stranger’s judgement of how much a biological parent is going to be allowed to spend with their child doing what parents naturally have a right and responsibility and passion to do)
- harassment (seemingly engaging in behaviour that knowingly causes another harm or distress)
- parent alienation ( a situation in which a resident parent (usually but not exclusively) turns their child against the non-resident parent, intentionally or unintentionally
Semantics really matter. They matter because there is a strong correlation between the words and the feelings they invoke and the emotions they relate to. And deliberately invoking negative feelings causes harm and distress. Ironically, it is harassment.
Doublespeak is a reflection of doublethink and when it comes to our kids it’s doubledumb.
A biological parent knows no love greater than that for their child. Anyone who has experienced being a mother/father knows this.
But imagine, as a person of good character, if your natural nurturing time spent developing and inspiring their education and growth was suddenly rationed by a third party and referred to as “access” or “contact”. What impact would that have on you both? Is it likely that the repeated use of those words and phrases could be perceived to be deliberately hurtful and abusive?
Now consider that time spent with the other parent is never referred to in the same way.
Now imagine if, having bitten your pride and swallowed your doubts in the interests of the children, you have agreed to a legal process using these doublespeak semantics.
Even if you now have a clear court order defining your “parenting time” and your “contact” and clear consequences should that order not be followed, you are reliant on your former partner to set the agreed dates, communicate with you about the children’s development and events, their health and well being, all the natural parenting norms. But, because of spite and malice and selfishness they simply don’t.
Now imagine if the court now can’t or won’t make them.
But, being a responsible parent who understands the importance of your “contact” allowance, you have to find a way to communicate with your estranged partner direct as you have no other choice:
- What if they then deliberately alienate the child, employing prolonged negative reinforcement, knowing that you won’t be able to prove it as even the term is open to a great deal of interpretation and not all judges or social working professionals understand it?
- What if they then invoke another doublespeak term “harassment” recognising how vague and open to wide interpretation it is, citing your communication? For someone who is fundamentally opposed to you being a parent, it is easy enough to claim that they find it uncomfortable to be contacted, given the notion of the children spending time away from them represents the opposite to their world view.
- What if this is then reported to the police who see you as somebody only allocated time rather than a proper parent like the resident parent and hear the resident parent claiming to feel “harassed”?
You see, words are really important.
Orwell was, of course, right.
Doublespeak is a reflection of doublethink and when it comes to our children, it’s doubledumb. Dumb in the sense that it’s stupidly abusive. But also because it teaches children that communicating and loving is punished.
It weaponises the abusers and enables them to alienate children from a positive relationship with both their parents by corrupting communication.
And because communication is at the core of life, this causes our children a great deal of immediate and longer term harm.
They need their parents to do what’s right for them, in tandem.
They need peace not pas.