Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
As a child, I was constantly being advised to remember this simple yet catchy saying. Whether it were my parents, a teacher, or some other authority figure, they all attempted to implant this message into my brain, the message being that verbal attacks packed less of a punch than physical ones.
I remember repeating this saying over and over to myself in my head whenever one of the other kids teased me on the playground or when my older sister would torment me in some sort of cruel assertion of her seniority. It became a type of mantra for my younger self, my most relied on defense when it came to bullies and their verbal venom.
But no matter how many times my inner voice chanted the innocent song, the tears always came. The insults thrown at me always found some way to get underneath my armor and inflict some type of wound on my fragile childlike feelings. I remember asking myself, as the tears rolled down my cheeks and my spirit continued to deflate, why would all of those people lie to me?
As I grew older, I quickly realized that despite their best intentions to help me develop a thick skin, all of those people were wrong. The truth is, words do hurt. A lot.
Words are some of the most powerful elements that people have at their disposal. No matter a person’s physical stature, they are still able to hurl hurtful comments with brute strength at their desired target. A person does not have to have any physical strength to damage how another person sees themselves.
Not only can words cause a deeper pain than physical acts of violence, but the effects last longer as well. If someone gets a bruise on their body, what do they do? They put ice on it, and soon all that is left is a fading purple mark. But what about when someone is a victim of another’s verbal weaponry? What can they do then? You can’t put ice on an impaired self esteem. Instead, the wound is allowed to fester until it becomes a permanent scar.
A person never truly recovers from an emotional injury either. The feelings of hurt and anger forever remain beneath the surface, making a sudden appearance when that person is at one of their lowest moments. And when enough of these feelings are left to stew together over time, the results are too often devastating.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton truly hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Today, it is futile to try and shield yourself from the harm of destructive words. Everywhere you go, someone is making yet another malicious comment about someone else. It has gotten to the point where spewing hate is a norm. If you take a look at the banter between friends, even this has become vicious, albeit in a playful manner. Whatever happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?
By far the most tragic part of this entire situation is the ignorance that characterizes it. It has become second nature for people to spit out insults at one another without even a thought regarding the consequences. People just go on about their day, the possibility of their words sincerely affecting someone never once crossing their minds.
How would these people feel if they knew the weight that their words actually held? If they realized that their negative words would become painfully heavy luggage that those they spoke to would be forced to carry around? Would they begin to think twice about what they say, and how they say it? I simply do not know.
I do know this, however: words do not have to hurt. While it is true that words work awfully well at tearing people down, they can also work just as well to lift someone up. The ability that a simple “hello” has to brighten someone’s day is practically unimaginable. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word to completely turn someone’s lousy day into a wonderful one.
So the next time you are about to say something that has the potential to hurt someone else, stop yourself. Instead, go home and tell your family that you love them. Tell your friends how much you appreciate them. Tell that girl who sits next to you in class that you like her outfit. Use your power of speech for good, not evil.
Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words have the power to make or break someone else’s spirit. Choose yours wisely.