I have no connection with Pathways, but in reading the two letters regarding them in the March 24 Western News was struck by their differences in language and tone. My linguistic background perked up its ears and said ‘there’s something going on here’.
First the language. While there’s isn’t space to go into much detail, the letter from the IH CEO used generalized, imprecise words that a philologist I once heard call “plastic words”, ones (‘change’, ‘barrier-free’) with so many possible meanings that they mean nothing. Also phrases used in talking about the services IH intends to supply to people with addiction problems were almost uniformly imprecise jargon; what has been called ‘bafflegab’ or ‘psychobabble’. Two prime examples: “ …it is about adopting the evidence-based, client-centred approach of the future”; and further on “…this will be a game-changer for supporting people with mental health and addiction challenges….”
The tone of the IH letter was subtly, but distinctly, implying, without evidence, that Pathways was not providing the services needed and that its staff were not keeping up with new approaches: stuck in an inadequate past. The opening sentence conveys this message, but similar undercutting occurs in almost every paragraph such as “By bringing these counselling services in-house we can follow up with people more effectively…. And ”We will improve care planning, medication support, wound care, psycho-social rehabilitation, ….” By the end of the letter, I was tempted to get out my violin to accompany the heady, if somewhat empty, sentiments.
In contrast to the above, the letter from the Pathways Executive Director uses only direct, specific words and phrases with a most refreshing lack of jargon or cliches. The tone and content are also direct and professional in answering very specific details of the IH letter and asking some undoubtedly uncomfortable questions. Without grandiose elaboration, the letter is clearly based on the 47 years of the organization’s experience in helping people with such difficulties.
Ms. Meyers points out a couple of egregious errors in fact in the IH letter to do with hours of operation and how people access services. The IH approach appears very bureaucratic and regimented in comparison to that of Pathways and does not seem helpful for people in crisis.
Apart from these differences in language and tone of the two letters, which alone make me feel much more confident of Pathways than of IH for this program, a new and unproven program carries no guarantee that it will be better than the old and well proven one. ‘Actions speak louder than words’ and the IH letter has lots of fancy words, but nothing but ‘trust us’ promises. Pathways’ letter by contrast has no fancy promises, just the weight of almost five decades of successful community program delivery.