It was in the school yard at an early age that I learned about the power of negative words. I was the subject of teasing, both harmful and playful, from other children that sometimes brought me to tears. The responses to my complaints by the adults in charge were limited to trying to reassure me that I shouldn’t worry about the name calling because they were just words, and occasionally they would force an apology from the other child.
In order to deflect the taunts, I would I repeat the old adage: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I hoped the teasing would stop since I was pretending that the name calling was not eliciting a negative response. Usually, that didn’t work and I was often left repeating the same adage like a scratched record (there wasn’t CDs back then.)
When I was sick and tired of teasing, I retorted to similar name calling, but that only backfired. I learned then that if I mirrored the same action that it only resulted in an escalation of a war of words. There were not any winners, just hurt feelings.
I felt helpless when the teasing would continue and sometimes wished I could hit the teaser but knew that was not an option I could exercise without punishment at home, and getting whooped with a belt would really hurt (I did say it was old school), perhaps more than the name calling. So I wasn’t going to take any chance. Thus, I learned to suck it up and tried to ignore negative words. But deep inside, I was hurting when I replayed them in my head.
You can’t undo the damage that is already done. No one can “un-speak” or let a person “un-hear” mean words. Even when the other children apologized, willingly or by force, it didn’t erase the pain, though it did give some slight, or perhaps temporary, relief. Hearing them say sorry somehow made me feel empowered and somewhat vindicated. Yet even then, I noticed that the pain from the hurtful words seemed to linger longer than I could have imagined.
The lessons learned from school yard experiences are a reminder that the (mis)use of words can hurt and last long. Although the pain inflicted by words is not the physical hurt as when you are hit by sticks or stones, it can still be emotionally painful. Mean words are harmful and have the potential to damage one’s self-esteem. But choosing meanness in retaliation still does not make it right.
Although we still have a long way to go, today there is more accountability in the schools to address teasing/name calling (bullying) due to many media reports of incidences that have ended tragically. Also, there is a cultural change underway where bullying is increasingly unacceptable in today’s society. It is an acknowledgement that name calling can impact others greatly and really do hurt them.
We all have the choice to use our words to uplift others, or to tear them down. Negative words are hurtful to children in the school yard as well as adults in the workplace. Let’s be mindful how we use our words so we don’t hurt others.
Do you agree? I would love to hear your feedback. Please see share your thoughts below.
- “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” (shannonisms.wordpress.com)
- Sticks and Stones (angchronicles.wordpress.com)