“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
I’ll admit it. I am (on occasion) a public eavesdropper, but only because people say the most interesting things in public. For instance, I was in the parking lot of an organic market not too long ago and a family (consisting of a mother, a father, and a pre-teen son) was getting in the car next to mine. The son was not in a happy mood.
“Why are you mad with Daddy?” the mother asked, and then instructed him, “Use your words.”
The son proceeded to not use words, his or otherwise, but to sulk as he climbed into the backseat of the crossover with folded arms.
I laughed inwardly, mainly because I was surprised to hear that people really used words like “use your words.”
Another time, I was innocently eating breakfast at a hotel near a popular amusement park, when a family of four was seated at the table next to mine. The two young boys were having a dispute, and to settle it, the father parroted the adage about sticks and stones breaking bones, but words never hurting you, to which the older son replied, “But they do hurt. They always hurt.”
Again I chuckled, this time because the little dude was merely confirming the belief I’ve always held: words can be dangerous things.
People can make cutting remarks that go on to have long and productive lives, remarks that go so far as to find a home inside your brain, and turn up again and again like that proverbial bad penny. If someone struck you, they might leave a sore spot or a bruise, but those things heal, those things fade with time. You might at some later date wish to revisit your injury, only to discover it has completely disappeared.
But words are different; words cut deep.
That’s why it’s a good idea to be like Horton and only say what you mean and mean what you say. Because once the words are out, you won’t be able take them back. You can’t. You can say you’re sorry. You can say you didn’t mean it. But if those are just lame, ineffectual words compared to the mean, harmful, pointed words you’re trying to take back.
Those words that can’t be “un-heard.”
It reminds me of the fable about gossip, often used to illustrate how once words are spoken, they become feathers in the wind; difficult to control, impossible to collect once unleashed.
Like that vintage shampoo commercial (and they told two friends, and so on, and so on) suggests, words have a way of getting out at an exponential rate, which is good for advertising your new restaurant, but not so good if we’re talking about your embarrassing, dirty laundry.
Funnily enough, I have written a book that addresses this very topic. Imagine that! It’s called I’m the Greatest Star, and tells the story of a sixth-grader named Star who, among other things, finds herself face-to-face with the verbally-abusive class bully.
I’m the Greatest Star is published by Stepping Stones for Kids, an Imprint of FootePrint Press and will be available for purchase next month, April 2018, as a paperback or eBook. Visit my website josielynnbooks.com for more details.