Speaking with compassion: Sticks and stones can break your bones – and words can really hurt, too

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard the phrase, “sticks and stones will break your bones, but word will never hurt you,” at some point as a kid.

I know I’ve heard it many times. And, I’ve caught myself echoing that same sentiment to my young sons.

But, you know what? It’s not entirely true - as my six-year-old son wisely pointed out to me the other day.

Words can absolutely hurt.

They may not scar your skin, but they can scar your soul. And, that goes for little souls trying to navigate their increasingly bigger worlds, too.

The power of words should never be underestimated.

They can hit us hard and gently caress us.

They can make us laugh and cry.

They can raise us up and they can bring us down.

They can unite us and divide us.

They can stay with us forever. For better or worse.

So, yes, that’s exactly why sticks and stones can break your bones – and words can really hurt, too.

As parents, we can tell our kids to brush them off, forget them and don’t let them bring you down. I mean, we can tell ourselves the very same thing.

But, is that really true?

I know I take harsh words to heart. I have a tough time wiping them from my mind. And, yes, they’ve brought me down, too. Because I'm only human - like all of us.

So, why do we need to act like they don’t, can’t or won’t hurt? Why can't we change the dialogue to say that words can hurt others, too? In fact, why don’t we just scrap the whole entire phrase?

It’s not about saying what can’t hurt us, but saying that we should use our words with compassion and care.

So, I, for one, have made a point to no longer use this particular saying any more. I mean, the phrase is thought to have first appeared in print in 1862.

A lot has changed since then - to say the least.

These days, we not only see and feel the power of our words, but we realize how quickly they can be shared across social media channels. And, unfortunately, those same channels have shown us the damage that words can do to so many people who struggle with being different, trying to find their way, and just figuring out a way to make sense of the world.

And, research has shown us that words really do stay with us.

According to a study reported on by The New York Times, being bullied in childhood can have a profound effect on mental health in adulthood.

But, let’s not forget that words can do so much good – if used the right way.

I’m not someone who remembers movie lines and is able to quote them on a whim. But, one movie line I’ll never forget is from 2011 movie, “The Help." The movie features Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (played by Emma Stone), a journalist who boldly decides to write a book from the point of view of the maids (or "the help") in Jackson, Miss. in 1963.

As a young child, Phelan’s maid repeated the confidence-building mantra: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

I know it’s a tale of fiction. But, can’t you see its strength in the real world?

I try to use a different version of it with my sons – based on the moment and their moods.

But, I think I may just cut to the chase and start telling them that they’re words are powerful. They should use them to make someone feel good and show their appreciation of them whenever possible. And, they should never use their words to make someone feel bad.

Words can help you, resolve conflict and even save you. They can do so much. So, use them wisely.

And, maybe if we all said it, school playgrounds, classrooms, and the other gathering places we frequent as we get older, would be happier, more compassionate places - places where sticks and stones stay on the ground where they belong and words are only used to connect us, unite us, build us up, and make us smile bright.

Today, more than 1,000 bloggers from around the world are raising their voices to virtually "flood the internet" with tales and pleas for compassionYou can read more of the 1,000 Voices Speak for Compassion here, and by following #1000Speak via social media. 

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1000speak compassion

Related posts:
5 ways you can encourage your child to be an "upstander"
Reporting vs. tattling: Reminding kids to use the power of their voice to resolve conflict

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