Sunday, 25 October 2015


On a complex but essential concept

On a train

The train was new and clean. It was running smoothly and on time, there were enough seats for everyone and the conductor (guard) had even been round to check the tickets. This in England!

Then the conductor made an announcement over the loudspeaker –
This train will shortly be arriving at New Street Station where it will end its journey.

What a shock. What was going to happen to my nice train? Was it to be taken out of service. Scrapped? Of course not, I immediately realised.


I have been reading rather a lot of late around disability, special education, Conductive Education even. Perhaps following the extensive circulation of that little story about 'Belgium', the word 'journey' is now quite widely used both popularly and professionally in this context, often perhaps implying no more than simply 'life', 'living' or 'life course', along with a conventionally fatalistic and passive acceptance of going through life and what it brings. But it may, however, hark to another, metaphorical use of the word, such as in the phrase 'spiritual journey' –
A long and often difficult process of personal change and development.
(Oxford Dictionaries)

I was surprised that it was this metaphorical meaning that was my immediate understanding of the conductor's announcement, quite overriding the actual reality that our journey was coming to its end in Birmingham's New Street's station approach – a far from spiritually transformative place, a long way from Nirvana.

On consideration, however, I find it rather encouraging that a single word has been adopted from society's existing cultural store to express and important aspects in the lives and understanding of so many involved with disability. In this sense it offers recognition and finds expression for a complex concept:
  • long
  • difficult
  • process
  • personal
  • change
  • development
There is enough in this list to frame a sermon, a lecture, a book, a programme of research, the structure of intervention, social policy.

What's in a word?

Thank you to that (train) conductor for obliquely setting me in mind how important it is that not uniquely, the world 'journey' cannot just be used or heard unthinkingly, in Conductive Education as anywhere, without consideration of the intention of what is being said:
  • Does it simply mean the same at 'life', or 'living', or 'life course', wholly within existing understandings of what shapes these?
  • Is it another example of 'virtue-signalling' (a fairly recent term for where words are used less for their actual meaning than to suggest that the speaker has right-on, bien-pensant views? *
  • Does it reflect deep consideration of what may be involved in, for example, bringing up disabled children –  in which case this word may have  plenty to say?
*   On his blog C.E. Jottings, Norman Perrin has recently pointed to –
Language used to disguise lack of real thought
Much the same sort of thing, I suspect.

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