Sticks and Stones


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.

I Digress….

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.)

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. yes, the notoriously bad for you cupcakes. they are all gone now–have to wait a few months between purchases…and as a child I believed too–now, not so much

  2. I was thinking about this the other day, LouAnn, the power of words, and that little ditty came to mind. Words are very powerful symbols that are generally used most carelessly. They are imbued with intention. The next time you hear “I love you to death,” think about it!

    Since we hold feelings way beyond their seeming expiration in our memories, words that evoke feelings and emotions can cause long-term damage…far longer than it takes for a broken bone to heal.

    Thanks for shining the spotlight on this!

    Oh, and I’ve had to stop buying Oreo cookies.I think a whole package is a single serving, regardless of the size of the package! Oreos are like crack-cocaine for me, so once I’m “clean” I have to stay that way, lol! Hope you enjoyed the cupcake, lol! 😉 xoM

  3. Yes yes yes I so agree with you, words hurt a lot and that old saying should be scrapped and never said again.

  4. This post is all well and good but, I have a problem. The truth, I always told the truth as a child and still do today at the age of 73. I had five siblings, when ever something happened my parents would always ask me because if I knew I always told them the truth even if I was the one that was going to get in trouble. Some time the truth hurts.

    Yes I know wait twenty minutes but I will still tell the truth, It has cost me because some people do not like to hear the truth. I hate when some one asks me, how do I look? Or, what do you think? I have a sister-in-law that still gives me the cold shoulder because when she asked me what I thought of her new furniture I told her what I thought, well she did ask. In all fairness to me what I said was;
    “If you like it that’s all that counts, it’s just not my style.”
    Everyone tells me I shoot from the hip and I do. I have lost friends and made people angry because I wouldn’t lie for them.
    Even if I am having an argument and the truth is being denied, I usually just stop talking and walk away and as I walk away the last words are; “You just don’t want to hear the truth,”
    Please don’t get me wrong here, I do have friends and family that love me. They all know me well and accept me the way I am. They do shoot back at times with a remark about me that is true but I will always tell them they are right. If anyone tells me I hurt their feelings I always apologize and then add, but you asked me what I thought, did you want me to lie? That will usually calm things down.

    As for the cupcakes my addiction is bread, I could live without sweets but not without bread. I tried buying bread I thought I wouldn’t like but that didn’t work. I now at my age don’t care and eat the bread I like. :o)

  5. Words can hurt and have weight. I’ve always felt this and agree that that expression is incorrect! People will always remember the things you say and the way you make them feel. And you can’t take words back no matter how many times an apology is spoken. I think in the wild west of the internet, people need to remember that as well.

    Advertising is especially manipulative at using words to sway us, but that’s their job so we have to take those with a grain of salt. Though, I’m sure I’ve been swayed without even realizing it, but that’s the whole game isn’t it?

    On another note, it appears that words are not as popular as they once were. Consider Twitter. ;).

  6. I too, dislike that phrase and know it to be untrue. I guess we said it as children so that the person didn’t think they hurt us… but of course the words did hurt.
    Even today at my age, I don’t react good to criticism or what I perhaps perceive as such, if the words spoken ‘hurt’ me. But now at least for the most part, I don’t dwell on them but try to ‘talk things over”…

    It does take time to decide on what I want to say…but like you I maybe don’t always take that time.. Diane

  7. I remember hearing the phrase when I was a kid and true to my sensitive, self-doubting nature, immediately thought there must be something wrong with me because hurtful words were ALWAYS what hurt me the most.

    My friends, family, and coworkers all know me to be a truth-teller but I do my best to cushion it and be as empathetic as possible. However, when I’m angry and my emotions get the best of me, the filter tends to break down and I end up saying what could have been said nicely in a much harsher manner. Sigh. That’s always a work in progress for me, to let my emotions simmer down before I open my mouth. Twenty minutes is kind of a long time though, especially if you’re in a meeting with people who are sorely testing your patience. These days I aim for 20 seconds before I say something reactionary. Again, work in progress.

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