Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never harm you. Once held to be true, in the age of speech codes and sensitivity to the feelings of others perhaps it is time to retire this axiom. Will doing so benefit you and your loved ones?
My daughter is a sensitive little girl. A stray look or elevated voice often reduces her to tears. She was upset for several weeks because someone called her a crybaby. While it pained me to see her distressed, I used this situation to explain to her that when a person says something mean about her such a statement means nothing – about her. It may, however, provide important information about the person who made the remark.
Movies of the 1930s and 1940s showcase a rich vocabulary of nicknames, many of which would be considered rude today. To call a fat boy Fatty or a smelly boy Stinky would raise howls of protest. But how does protecting a child from such epithets impact his ability to handle mental stress?
Being given such a nickname can help a child learn to distinguish between good-natured ribbing and true invective. If such names are said in jest or a spirit of camaraderie, they help a child to learn humility and can serve to bind him to a group. When said to wound, like with my daughter, they teach a child how to deal with people of questionable or poor character. In either case, the child is more emotionally resilient and thus better prepared for the rigors of life.
What happens when speech is prohibited? Merely because someone is forbidden to utter something does that changed his attitude? Clearly, it does not. Is it better to know the character of a person with whom you may associate or have it hidden from you? Indeed you are probably wasting your time dealing with someone who is prejudiced against you.
While you cannot always control your feelings, in most cases allowing them to be hurt is a decision you make. Whereas if someone attempts to strike you it may be difficult or impossible to avoid or ward off the blow, you can ignore a rude remark, especially if it is false. A remark that is harsh but true can be reframed as an inspiration to change.
Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never harm you. Time to write its obituary? For the sake of your and your loved ones' mental fitness, an extension of tenure is in order.
Question – How do you respond to someone who has spoken to you harshly?
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