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Opinion: People-first language key for community success

2018 40 Under 40

Posted online

Have you heard of people-first language?

It’s a communication method sinking into health care and public service fields that enforces the use of a patient’s individual identifier first, followed by the diagnosis. For example: Rather than “the autistic child,” you say “the child who has autism.”

According to the professors and medical experts collaboratively teaching an opioid management class I’m currently enrolled in at Harvard University’s online program, HarvardX, using people-first language consciously directs the brain to show more compassion and provide assistance with a subsequent “people-first” mindset. It helps to cultivate an important vantage point that alters the way one views people beyond a diagnosis.

However, the positive implications of people-first language are not limited to medical professionals and public servants. The ideology behind this method of identification is applicable to everyone. And it’s a concept I noticed a large number of the 40 Under 40 class of 2018 has already taken to heart.

After being selected by our judges as honorees, I emailed all 40 award recipients a list of questions – some job related, some just for fun. One of the questions was, “What was your professional aha moment?”

Although each answer varied from person to person based on individual life experiences, the majority involved some revelation about interacting with people – managing people, motivating people, providing a welcoming work environment for people, relating to clients or ways to better interact with clients.

All in all, these were better ways to put people first.

I recently watched a Ted Talk that summarized this concept well. During her speech, “To solve the world’s biggest problems, invest in women and girls,” Global Fund for Women CEO Musimbi Kanyoro introduced listeners to Kenyan culture’s traditional concept of “isirika.”

Isirika, she explained, is a pragmatic lifestyle built on charity and helping others. Translated literally into English, it means generosity. The philosophy, Kanyoro said, means to care together for one another.

“The essence of isirika is to make it clear to everybody that you are your sister’s keeper and, yes, you are your brother’s keeper,” she said. “Mutual responsibility for caring for one another.”

People-first language and isirika, at home, at work and in the community – it’s all about helping others. And that mindset? It’s just one reason why the following individuals are in the 2018 class of 40 Under 40 honorees, bringing the total number of honorees since 1999 to 800.

It’s something all of us should adopt into our own lives, as well.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Hanna Smith can be reached at


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