When I was a child, over and over I heard the expression about sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Even as a nine year old who needed to believe that to get through childhood teasing, I knew it was a lie. A big fat lie that we need and want to be true but isn’t for so many reasons. While physical blows may hurt and leave a mark, the scars that words leave behind are just as painful and can last a lifetime.
Words hurt. And I’m not just talking about name calling. People choose words to hurt others, to cut deep into the heart. During an argument, someone will lash out, usually from their own hurt, with whatever they have gathered as ammunition. What ever they know will hurt the most. If you are lucky, you get to apologize for them later. Take them back when the anger has cooled. But no matter how convincing the apology, they have left behind scars. Scars hidden from view, but scars that are a constant reminder that this person can hurt you, that their words have the power to make you feel pain. Time heals most scars, but when the hurtful words come fast and furious, the scars deepen and you retreat for self-preservation. Words have the power to destroy trust, love, relationships.
Words lie. They manipulate. They promise. People make promises with good intentions. I once promised “Till Death do we part.” I’ve said, “I love you” to people I no longer love. Are they broken promises or lies? Did I lie when I promised to love forever? At the time, every piece of me believed that it was true. But are they lies now? What’s the difference between a broken promise and a lie? Is it intention? Perspective? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. But my broken promises have hurt others as the broken promises of others have scared me. I can’t erase them. I can only be sorry that they were said or that I broke them or that I believed someone else’s promises. With words that lie, comes the power to manipulate. We can rationalize, justify, convince. We can use one detail among hundreds to convince ourselves and others that we are correct. We can lie to ourselves by choosing to ignore some words and focus on others. We can win an argument. Lose an argument. It doesn’t matter. Words will make all of us losers.
Words humor us. They make us laugh. They release tension. But for every joke, the words hide a truth. They cleverly disguise what and how the joke teller feels or thinks. I hate blonde jokes for this reason. I’m well aware of my own intelligence or lack there of so they don’t insult me, but if someone continually tells blonde jokes, it lets me know what they think of me or of their need to belittle me. I’m sure each of us has a joke we find offensive, and when someone tells that joke, we look at them in a new way. I’m guilty of sarcasm, and I know that I use it to hide behind. To reveal my doubts or my feelings. But sometimes my sarcasm has hurt others and sometimes it has hurt myself when my doubts or feelings were confirmed. Words have the power to reveal our thoughts even when we aren’t intentionally trying to give anything away.
Words do inspire and encourage. Words aren’t all negative. They can be uplifting. Whether from a bible verse or quote, words have the power to make us feel enlightened, uplifted, or just better about ourselves. I have a few students who after years of hearing my positive encouraging words, have now turned my own words on me when I forget them. They tell me that I deserve better or that I got this. And this is how I know the words we choose come back to us one day. If we are kind, when we need kindness, others will return it. If we have been cruel, the words we need to hear will not come. The scars we’ve left have numbed others to our pain and suffering.
Words are our most powerful weapon. As humans, our emotions drive us. We protect them. We risk them all for love. We numb ourselves to pain. We choose the words we use, and we choose the words we will listen to others use against us. In all of this though, we must not forget that we are humans and mistakes are a given. We must grant forgiveness, sometimes even if it is only to ourselves. We allow the scars to heal, and we decide who we allow to hurt us again. For time and our hearts may offer forgiveness, it doesn’t guarantee forgetting.
Our words are our everyday weapons; we must use them carefully.