Thursday, September 25, 2014
Universal Language: Falling Down The Stairs
When is it appropriate for a person to use the pronoun "you" when the person speaks of himself? The use of the word "you" when speaking of oneself, is often found in both distancing language, as well as universal language (which is a form of distancing).
2 months ago, I fell down a flight of stairs. I broke my collar bone, toe, and bruised up pretty badly. I also tore my shoulder muscle, which has yet to heal. I had just received a new prescription for glasses: progressive lens glasses. I was struggling with them, and came down very early in the morning, and had left a book on the step the night before. I fell down almost the entire stairs, hit the landing, and fell down 2 more to the floor. The pain was acute.
Note the following statement:
"It hurts when you break your collar bone."
This is not something you would expect me to say after the above described fall.
When was this said?
Herein lies the key: context.
A broken bone is very painful.
How close to the break was this sentence spoken?
When the pain is mostly a memory, it is appropriate to use not only distancing language, but 'universal' language: "you" is anyone who experiences a broken collar bone, no matter how the injury occurred
For me, it was the flight of stairs.
Now, a case to examine from several years ago in which an employee fell down stairs. I am always on alert for those who seek to "game" the system, and seek some form of compensation. The subject said:
"Fell down a flight of stairs. I have to be seen."
I noted the missing pronoun, as I take notes, always. She did not say "I fell..." but "Fell..." This is distancing language. It could be because she was in severe pain. Having experienced a fall down an almost entire flight of stairs, the pain is blinding. Yet, "I have to be seen" is a legal responsibility an employer has. Besides "gamers", I also am concerned about health, safety and well being. No one in pain needs someone questioning their account, yet, my training has me on alert.
My response: "Yes, immediately."
The subject continued to talk, therefore, rather than cutting her off with another insistence upon seeking medical attention immediately, I asked,
Q. "How many steps did you fall down?"
A. "How many steps did I fall down? Well, uh, three."
I noted both the repetition of my question, and the number within the answer. This sensitivity (answering a question with a question) may be due to pain. I must always remain open-minded and believe what I am told.
Q. What hurts?
A. "Everything. Everything. Everywhere it hurts. You hurt when you fall down the stairs."
Q. Yes it does. You need to be seen immediately.
A. "Okay. I have to wait for my husband to drive me."
Q. "Do you want me to arrange a ride? Would you like to go in an ambulance?"
A. "No, I can wait."
Q. "If you choose to wait, you can ice it, and take advil."
A. "Yeah, that's true. I should be seen, but I don't like when they prescribe pain medication. It makes my head swim."
I noted the introduction of narcotics. I noted that not only did she introduce narcotics, but she did so in the negative.
The secretary called the medical office contracted to see the employees, with the relevant information and the description of the injury.
The treating physician called me. "I know your work! What do you think about this case?"
I reported that I had my doubts, particularly for two reasons:
1. The number of steps was given as three. Of course, this may be true, but according to research by Mark McClish, "3" is to be flagged for possible deception. (I think that "two" might sound too little, for a deceptive person, and "4" might sound excessive, therefore, 3 is chosen. More on this later).
2. The distancing language within moments of the fall the subject used
I also told him that I had not asked about pain medications, but that by offering to me that she did not like pain medications, I was concerned that this may be a ruse to score meds. I told him that she may have very well fallen down three steps, injured herself, and hates pain medication, but that the linguistic indications mean I should verify.
He thanked me for my opinion, and said that he would report back to me the findings, including any work restrictions.
After the examination, he said, "She reported global pain, and needed assistance to enter the office. I have ordered x-rays as a matter of routine, due to the report of such acute pain. Upon examination, there are no injuries. She requested pain medication but I only gave her a script for a single tablet, since there was no visible injury, and I also noted that when she was leaving, she did not know I was watching. I noted in my chart that she left with perfect gait. I told her that if the x-ray showed fracture, I would give her another prescription for pain medication. "
She was sent to the x-ray facility, next building down.
She did not show up.
When an injury, or a physical attack happens, it is very personal. The distancing language comes into play as the pain or memory of the pain subsides. Emotion has a powerful ability to change language, and in this case from
"I hurt" to "you hurt" when you break your...
Conclusion: Part of context is when the subject makes a statement. How often has the subject made the statement? If time has passed the subject is repeating his words, you make hear a "self reference" indicating the subject is no longer working from experiential memory, but memory of what he said earlier.
"Like I said, when you break your collarbone..."
As time and healing has taken place, universal, distancing language (2nd person, "you") is appropriate.
When the wound is fresh, or if the incident is not universal, distancing language should be examined for possible deception. Passivity and dropped pronouns should also be noted.
Lesser injuries will use universal language. When gender is not known, "their" or "they" is sometimes used, even when plural is denied.
Pronouns are instinctive. When something is universal, "you" is sometimes used. When something is up close and personal, we must question why one is using distancing or universal language.
Recall the Baby Ayla case, in which the deceptive grandmother took two unique, and terribly intrusive personal events and said:
"When you're waiting for someone to call about your missing granddaughter...when someone is casing your house..."
She did not lie.
People do not like to lie outright, instead will withhold or suppress information. No one likes to be seen or caught as a liar. When one is caught, rage is often the response.