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  • Writer's pictureEmily Johnson


One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a nurse was how the power of language can influence outcomes. I didn’t learn this in nursing school nor while I was working at the bedside in intensive care units. Instead, I was briefly touched by this power when my brother died and it wasn’t until later when working with bereaved families as an organ donation coordinator and as a yoga teacher that I understood the power of the words that our mouths bear and the potency of force in which we position our physical bodies.

Transparency of our thoughts and a mere mention of something potentially frightening or misunderstood, even with the best of intentions, can add to traumatic stress and lead to poor outcomes for an individual or an entire family. Couple this with overbearing physical posture and an inability to read the room and you’ll be destined for roadblocks.

This past year I have been on the receiving end of countless mere mentions. Statements implying child abuse and neglect, cavalier recommendations of sending my child back to a psych hospital in order for us to “get some rest”, and shaming about screen time hours has left a sour taste in my mouth. All of these statements have come from providers - not parents - but actual physicians and therapists who have no extensive clinical expertise on our child’s diagnosis. They are the amateurs and we as the parents are experts.

And just the other day; that’s when it hit me. I could see the parallel between my previous role as an organ donation coordinator to what I am living now.

I recall those days when I would enter the hospital as the qualified expert around organ donation, only to walk into a situation where the unqualified amateur had already “mentioned” organ donation and not been able to provide the family with accurate information and support. Those situations were difficult as they often left families in despair with many loose ends suspended in air. Statements were made around speculation and not based in fact. Families were left either clinging to hope or on the opposite end sitting in silent rage.

Drive-by conversations, impromptu meetings, and mere mentions do not allow for sacred space. We have become numb to the gravity of our common place language within our respective professions. We forget to consider the implications of our words. Our systems fail to allow us extra time to have deep discussions. And because of this we allow our subconscious thought to override the situation. We make suggestions, recommendations, offer options, and insert our own experiences onto one another without considering the ramifications of our words and the entirety of the whole picture.

I urge all you - regardless of your roles on this earth - to pause and evaluate the words coming out of your mouth and how you hold your body. We communicate through language and language is not merely about words. Notice your posture when you speak. Notice how you hold yourself when someone is speaking to you. Notice where and how you position yourself in a room. And ask yourself before you speak if your words are based in fact versus speculation. Hold yourself accountable for what you say. Chances are if you do the best outcome will unfold.

And that’s all anybody wants.

P.S. - Please uncross your arms (and your legs).

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