Sticks and Stones may Break Bones- But Words will Break your Spirit
As a child in the 70s I remember chanting, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” My parents taught it to me, and when I asked my mother about it, she said her mother taught it to her.
I started to do a little research on where this proverb came from, and discovered it first appeared in an African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1862. The speaker presented it to the congregation as an “old adage”, which indicates that it was “old” in 1862.
You must understand that a proverb is generally a short ditty intended to provide some advice… But this advice stinks!
Let’s backtrack for a second. It was actually the shirt I was wearing a couple of days ago that kicked off this little research journey for me.
I wore a ‘controversial’ shirt out of the house the other day, and a couple confronted me about it.
Notice I didn’t say they “asked me about my shirt,”- nope, confronted. These two people harassed me because of the message on my shirt.
Standing in the middle of the store, with my teenage son by my side, I had a decision to make. My first instinct was to fight back with words. I mean, come on, you're gonna try to silence my beliefs in a country where freedom of speech is protected, right? Ironically enough, that was the topic of my shirt. A whole conversation with these two played out in my head- one that wasn’t nice and would’ve caused a scene. But, instead of verbalizing my full thoughts, I politely smiled at them and walked away.
Did I want to fight back? Absolutely. My inner dialogue was hostile, angry, and uncomfortable. But the hurt and confusion from the attack shut me down.
I felt like I was 12 again, standing in the middle school locker room, being harassed by the girls who thought I was “trash.”
That was over 30 years ago, and I was back to that moment in an instance.. Their words still haunt me. And, just like when I was 12, I wanted these people put in their place.
As I sat with my feelings afterwards, I started thinking about my own children. I started thinking about how the internet has opened the door to our homes, where our children can’t escape bullying like I did when I was young.
The research even shows that a third of all middle school students have experienced cyberbullying.
Knowing this, I walked away from a situation where I should have stood up for myself, modeling for my teenage son how to appropriately handle this kind of situation.
Walking away is what 12-year-old Stacey would have done. Adult Stacey should have told them that I didn’t appreciate the way they approached me, and that I would have been happy to have a civilized conversation with them about my shirt.
That's not what happened, though. Instead, I was hurt.
Words hurt and wounds heal.. but words also tend to linger. They can hurt our mind, heart, and soul, leaving us damaged in ways that cannot be seen.
It doesn’t matter if it's at home, school, or the supermarket. Verbal abuse causes fear, anxiety, depression, PTSD, intrusive thoughts, sleep and eating problems, memory gap disorders, hyper-vigilance, substance abuse, suicide, self-harm, anger issues, and the list goes on.
Y’all, that is a lot of damage from WORDS!
We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. And, it is our responsibility to make sure the words coming from our mouths are kind and respectful to others.
Sticks and stones may cause physical harm, harm that heals, but words can have long-lasting effects on our mental health. For some, it’s catastrophic.
Consider the words you’re using in your daily life- they ultimately speak volumes about who you are as a person.
So, what do your words say about you?