Stick and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.
Most of us have heard this old adage chanted on playgrounds and in backyards. Some of us might have recited this one a few times ourselves. As children, we shout this to our adversaries in order to make us feel better, to reinforce that the nasty name-calling can’t truly hurt us. As adults, we might not recite this specific adage but most of us stubbornly cling to the meaning. They are only words and words can’t hurt us.
But is that true? I don’t think so.
Words can and do hurt.
Words have power. Have you ever read a poem or a book that made you laugh? Made you cry? Those are only words.
Think about ad campaigns. The perfect slogan can prompt millions of sales for a product. That slogan is powerful and it is only words.
We all recognize physical abuse. We know that a spouse slapping us in the face is wrong. That hurts, both physically and emotionally. We recognize the power of that action.
What about verbal abuse?
I’ve been told and have read that words only hold the power we give to them. To me, that’s like saying that a punch only hurts if you allow it to. Words can hurt and they can heal, they can move us to tears and move us to act. They seep into our spirits and cling to us. Right or wrong, they often define us.
Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. ~ Buddha
If words didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t have invented so many colorful names to call one another. What would be the point in shouting demeaning profanity-filled sentences if the person on the receiving end could simply shrug them off and happily go about his or her day?
When I was young, my mother would tell me, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” That stuck with me. She taught me, without ever having to explain further, that words matter. What we say to one another sticks. We take those words in, internalize them. When enough of those words are negative, that impact can damage in ways we never expected.
Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society. ~John Adams
We are each solely responsible for the words that tumble from our mouths. And, as an independent author, I am solely responsible for the words I type in a post, in a story and in a novel. Fiction is meant to entertain, not necessarily educate. Still, those words matter. They have power. Some will spark controversy and maybe a few, on some level, with spark change.
I hope that my writing provokes thought, that it occasionally provides a different perspective. The world is not black and white and sometimes the view from the neighbor’s window is nothing like the view from your own. Words, whether fiction or not, can show us that.
Joel Olsteen said, “You can change your world by changing your words… Remember, death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Words have tremendous power. Remember that the next time you use yours. It’s never only words.