Do you “HAVE to” or do you “GET to”?

On a hot summer’s day in June 1997, I met with a small family in a remote village in Southern Lebanon.  Like all the residents of the village, this family lived every day and night in fear of unwanted attention from various ‘armed elements’ in the area. 

I don’t recall the exact circumstances around my encounter with them, but I do remember a comment that they made to me, that changed my perspective on life. 

Amid their chaos, and without access to psychological support or formal education, they had developed resilience in their circumstances through their chosen use of language. 

We already know how powerful language can be.  A few words, when taken out of context has the power to break down otherwise good working relationships. At the clinical level, carefully considered language may be the difference between a treatment plan being accepted or rejected by a client.

At the time that I met with this family, I didn’t join the dots between their language and how it sustained them, I just recall feeling great admiration for the family – in particular, their son whose grasp of English made our exchange possible.

The language that I’m referring to is the power of switching out the word ‘have’ with the word ’get’ – particularly when we actually have very little choice in the matter we’re referring to...

I ‘have’ to do something, or I ‘get’ to do something, completely changes how we think about

the task in hand. 

It reminds me of our frontline workers who have no choice but to keep their services going, despite the fact that for the majority of us down here in Australia and New Zealand, Christmas and the New Year coincides with the great “summer shutdown”.

Do we ‘have’ to work over Christmas and the New Year or do we ‘get’ to take care of patients during this time?

Do we ‘have’ to do on-call or do we ‘get’ to respond to a midnight callout and relieve pain and anxiety of the pet and their owner?

Having just gotten off a coaching call with a wonderful ECC specialist (Jen), I was left wondering whether this message might seem tone deaf to the perfect storm in which the industry finds itself, right now?

The context of this call was the very pointy end of ECC where ‘turning patients away’ is literally not an option – the difference between that patient making it through, or not.  Whether you’re a specialist or referring practice, there is no doubt that one word won’t make a substantive change to the high levels of attrition and oppressive workload – that can seem so overwhelming.

Every day that goes past is another day closer to COVID being a thing that we tell our grandkids about.  Sometimes, we ‘get’ to (and ‘need’ to) take a break from it all, but in the meantime, I hope this small change in language helps to re-frame your circumstances in a small way.

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