Sticks and Stones and Words Break More than Bones

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I’m not sure where I first heard these words but when a little boy in my class said “my dad works in a coal mine, what’s your excuse?”

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”, I said, but I was lying.

Those words did hurt me for many years.

I don’t remember the name of that little boy or much else from that year of elementary school but I remember that the words he spoke were spat at me with the intention of causing me pain.
I moved to the United States at a time when children from black communities were being bussed to schools in predominately white communities. I was one of two black students in the class, you would think that we would have formed an alliance, but the fact that I was from another country and had an accent further ostracized me from my peers. I learned at an early age the defense mechanism of learning to make myself invisible.

Fast forward to present day and I observe one person making comments regarding my daughters change in appearance, she became quite upset and I overheard someone say to her, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but don’t let words hurt you?”

I became furious, one because my baby bear was hurting and two because I immediately became that little girl in first grade hearing the words “my dad works in a coal mine, what’s your excuse?”

I realized that as parents, teaching our children to “man up” and ignore the downright cruelty of others is not the answer to the problem.

On the other side of the spectrum as a mom of a child who has also been called a bully I realize that the answer is not to repay cruelty with even more cruelty.

The answer lies in awareness and education and the learning of life skills. A basic awareness of common courtesy and an awareness of how the words we speak can affect someone’s psyche throughout the course of their lives. There is a biblical Proverb that says there is life or death in the words we speak. Considering that- per a Harvard study, bullied victims are 7 to 9 percent more likely to consider suicide, I would tend to agree with that proverb. In addition to awareness and education, we must teach our children both those who would be the speaker or the recipient of unkind words, to not follow the example of those who follow the philosophy of using the freedom of speech to divide and tear down but rather to empower and build up.

Teaching children skill such as  kindness, compassion and empathy in speech and action beginning at an early age is a strong preventative measure.


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