Remember when you were a kid and someone would say something mean to you or call you a name and when you tried to find some comfort all you would hear is the oft cited but never apropos phrase: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? I am here to tell you that I believe that little ditty should be locked away and the key destroyed so it never sees the light of day again.
Seriously, “words will never hurt me”? Nothing hurts more than a sharply worded criticism, a slight that is not in any way trivial or minor, or a knockout punch in the form of a barb. Words are notorious for being hurtful, upsetting and cruel but they can also be healing, nurturing, and comforting.
As a self-described scribe, words have provided me bread, if not butter. And I know the power they have. I try to be careful with my words, particularly the written word, but I have to admit that I have said things in anger that should not have been said. Anger seems to break down our barriers and I have found that if I can keep my mouth shut when I want to lash out, the outcome is much better. I cannot always do this. Eating your words is a bitter pill to take, but it is better than letting them dissolve someone else’s psyche.
Sticks and stones will break your bones, but those bones generally heal. Harsh, harmful, and hard words hurt, and if not properly anaesthetized by a heartfelt apology they are left to fester for an eternity—or at least twenty minutes. So where did I get twenty minutes? According to an article I read over the weekend called “How Advertisers Lead Us to Do Their Bidding” by Linda Blair, twenty minutes is “the time it takes for an emotionally driven reaction to settle down.”
I am not so sure this applies directly to being unfairly attacked by words, but it could. If, after being chastised by someone we waited twenty minutes, would we be as likely to attack back? Maybe, but by then our response might be a bit more tactful than if we reacted immediately. I am not saying this would be easy, nay, in some situations it would be close to impossible, but it is something worth contemplating. And it would also confuse your attacker if you did not react immediately—which would be a reward in itself.
The article was not about hurtful words, but about words that create “the power of suggestion” and are meant to elicit a response. For example, in one study, students were given two lists of words. One list had words that suggested aggressive behaviour; the other, words that suggested politeness and patience. The students were then asked to go to a room to speak with another researcher but “in a move deliberately designed to cause frustration” that person was busy chatting. Now I am sure you can guess the outcome, but it is disturbing how we can be so manipulated by “mere” words. Those who had been “primed with the rude words interrupted the conversation”, while those who had been exposed to the “polite words waited patiently.” I am thinking that I should try this experiment on myself as I am notoriously impatient, though most of the time I try to keep it under wraps.
We are easily manipulated by words, so it just makes sense that when we are hurt by harsh words it is hard to get them out of our system. I am well aware that I am a bit of a sponge when it comes to outside factors getting in my craw and eating away at me—just watching the news can put me in a melancholy mood, as the news tends not to highlight the better side of life.
Maybe I will try the twenty minute trick, as well as guard my exposure to negative things, people, and events. If twenty minutes is the magic time needed to quell consumerism and make sure that the decision you make is “your own and rational” rather than “influenced and impulsive”, perhaps it is also the time we need to calm down from an “eventful” or “stressful” situation. Certainly something to think about….
(I do know that a twenty minute recess will not stop me from eating my precious Hostess chocolate cupcakes with the deadly white filling and swirl on top. The last one is calling me from my freezer right now and I am afraid I am going to heed its call. The good thing is that there is only one package left as I am only safe from their siren call if they are not within reach.)