Clean language

First things first, this is not a post about swearing! Think of a time when a friend or loved one has done something or come to you with a problem, and you’ve offered advice about what you think they should do or offered what you would have done in that situation. That’s what this post is about.

As a teacher I engage in CPD (continued professional development) which aims to develop practice in the classroom. It was in one of these CPD sessions that I came upon the concept of ‘clean language’.

Clean language is about using words in conversation that are free from our own values and expectations. Each of us has a unique sense of self which we take in to every relationship. Our minds are full of our own personal desires. These desires relate to outcomes that we wish to pursue for ourselves. So unsurprisingly we often consciously or subconsciously use words or actions with the aim to control situations or circumstances that end up resolved in line with what we want.

Why would that impact on a teacher? A teacher in a classroom plans lessons to specifically achieve certain outcomes. So as teachers we desire all students to behave in a manner that will see these objectives met. Put thirty or so young people in to the equation, each with their own personal minds, troubles and objectives for the day, well, unsurprisingly this can lead to a conflict of interests!

The ultimate aim of teaching is that every child matters and every child should have the opportunity to learn. We learn best when we are open minded and feel safe and secure to do so. Imposing your view on to a child without being compassionate or showing care, does not lead to great relationships and ultimately causes problems with learning in the classroom.

Using clean language is not about establishing who is right or wrong. If someone has feelings, whether you agree with them or not, you have to acknowledge them, discuss them and show by example how to deal with them.

Clean language then is a tool to enable conversations, which lead to better relationships and self-awareness. This is not just because of the absence of one will being imposed on the other, but for whatever reason, we often lack understanding of our own emotions. This can be because we have buried them. Internalising our emotions often leads to confusion or frustration. We start acting out behaviours that annoy others, or become self-defeating.

“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself” – Thales

To know more on clean language and its application you can watch Caitlin Walker’s TEDx talk on You Tube.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it.” Proverbs 18:21 AMP.

Our words have a profound effect on other people and if we intentionally or unwittingly attempt to manipulate the will of others, to lead in a direction we think the other should go, this becomes an act of the self.

Imposing your own view on to other people can prove wounding because it touches on everyone’s need to feel valued. If we look at the life and ministry of Jesus – we see that He uses clean language to invite us in to relationship with Him! Jesus invites us to follow Him (for an example see Mark 1:17 “Come after Me and be My disciples.”) If we were forced, or coerced, would our faith then be true or lasting? Jesus shows us the way, but it is always up to us to accept.

Jesus asks us what we need, even though He sees what is in our hearts, we are invited to share and be vulnerable – because that’s what it means to be in relationship. To be in relationship with others is to be vulnerable, to state our needs, be heard, listened to, and loved. To be treated with dignity. We don’t do any of that if we think we know what is best for everyone else!

Jesus tells us “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Mark 9:45.

Mark 10:46-52 tells the story of Bartimaeus receiving his sight. Jesus could have said “Hey, I see you’re blind, come here I’ll heal you!” Does He do this? No! Instead Jesus actually asks him “What do you want Me to do for you?” Mark 10:51. He demonstrates clean language! By asking He shows that this is a way to serve others and ultimately love them. He is modelling the greatest commandment! Jesus is an awesome teacher!

Ephesians 4:1-3 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

So using clean language guides us in to self-discovery, which is healing, and empowering. It avoids imposing outcomes on to others. It leaves us feeling valued. After all, we matter; to ourselves, to each other and most of all to God!


Heavenly Father, thank you for Your love and compassion towards us! Thank You Jesus for showing us how to love others as You did. Help us to walk in step with You by being humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with one another in love. Amen.

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