Last month we launched a new series, Wise Up, in which staff and lecturers at Bermuda College share their expertise. This is the second column in the series.

Language matters. It’s not just how we talk to each other, it’s how we explain to ourselves exactly what we understand to be important. 

The words we use have to be in sync with the ideas they’re describing, otherwise we may as well just remain silent. 

It’s the difference between starting with a positive declaration or a negative warning; the former tells the world exactly what you’re going to do and why, and the latter says what’s not going to happen without explaining what it’s supposed to be protecting from harm.

It’s the difference between saying, “I love you, so I’m going to make sure you’re healthy” and “If you don’t eat your vegetables, I’m going to smack you.” 

One is focused on what you’re going to do for someone important, and how you’ll make it so. 

The other only describes what someone else better not do, unless they want to be harmed. This is an important distinction, particularly when you apply it to the work we do here at Bermuda College. 

For example:

You can’t go to college, unless you meet all the clearly defined requirements.  

We will do everything we can to make sure you get to college, because you are too important for anything else to be true.

The language used to power the first sentence – You can’t… unless – is entirely too present entirely too often in our society, particularly surrounding our self-defined priorities.

The intention that created the need to speak the first sentence is pure, clear and powerful: College is important, and you should experience it. 

However, the language used to express the idea makes the success of the student less valuable than the process of reaching the goal. 

Put this way, the student’s needs are secondary, subordinate to the framework. This can’t be so. The requirements exist as part of a larger institutional system, that was built with the singular goal of giving students the chance to succeed. 

So, if that chance is explicitly described as being less important than the processes surrounding the chance itself, something is wrong. In fact, everything is wrong, because “You can’t…, unless” prioritizes policy over people. 

Supportive relationship

On the other hand, the second sentence protects and propagates the intention it’s meant to express. “We will… because” is a positive declaration of what the future is going to consist of, the mutually supportive relationships that will make the journey possible and the reason why the entire exercise must occur. 

“We will… because” says the student matters enough for everything else to be subordinate to their success. All requirements will be met because the student is that precious, not the requirements themselves. 

“You can’t… unless” says the student occupies a lower position on the priority totem pole than institutional policy. “We will… because” says that your success is the primary driver of action, and you will be surrounded with all the resources you need to find it. 

It’s the difference between telling a student that they can’t be admitted until they successfully fill out a form and asking a student what help they need to get all their paperwork finalized. 

It’s the difference between saying that a student’s math scores are too low to begin their degree programme and helping connect them with classes free of pre/co-requisites along with the required prep courses so they can get started towards their goal as close to immediately as possible. It’s the difference between you can’t, unless and we will, because.

At Bermuda College, we will do everything we can to make sure you are successful, because you’re too important for anything else to be true. 

Language matters, so let’s make sure we use the right words. n

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