When I was a mean little sister - I would try to antagonize my older sister, Lisa. One day, I found a taunt that sent her running into the house crying. I was chanting over and over again, "Lisa, pizza, Lisa, pizza...", and laughing at how upset she became. I remember feeling quite taken aback when she soon came outside and said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Suddenly, in the face of a poem such as that, my "Lisa pizza" teasing felt flat and deflated - and it worked, I stopped saying it.
I was five.
Through the years, as I was growing up, I found myself facing many situations in which I would repeat that small poem over and over again. The reality, though, is that in spite of the fact hearing it worked to stop my kindergarten teasing - it isn't true for every situation. Sometimes words cut deep and hurt so profoundly we find ourselves feeling like we will never recover from the pain they inflict. And sometimes they humiliate and embarrass people so much that whatever fragile self-esteem they have crumbles into nothing.
Our world is more filled with words now than ever before. People who would never read an entire book can sit for hours reading Facebook posts and following Twitter feeds. We absorb words and messages at a rate unlike anything we have ever done in the past. And we have 24/7 access to people we may never even have to face. That seems to make it easier to fight and argue and say mean things that do nothing to build people up, and a whole lot to tear them down.
I can't say how often I have seen couples or siblings or people on opposite sides of the political scene, or even friends, fighting online. Sometimes their words are so hateful and derogatory, it makes me cringe. Rumors that destroy others are started, fueled and spread quickly through the use of words on social media. The more astonishing, shocking and hurtful they sound, the more quick people tend to be to share them.
Let's face it, it's much easier to hide behind a computer or cell phone and insult someone else than it is to confront them and discuss issues face to face. To say that words can never hurt me is more untrue in this society than ever before. They can hurt. They can devastate. Many of the words out there in cyberspace could be eliminated and there would be less pain in the world.
And the poem needs to change, maybe to something like: Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can certainly hurt me.
Just to remind us to use our words to heal.