“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
What are they? According to my good friend Mr. Webster: “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing…” (noun)
During Spring Break, are you having so much fun that you lose track of your words? Do you even remember what words you used in that conversation with your parents an hour ago? What words do you use? Are they harsh? Are they soft? Are they kind? Are they loud? How do you use your words? To hurt? To help? To encourage? To insult?
No matter what any old saying tells us, words can hurt – a lot. But they can also work the other way around. Just like words can be used to break someone down, they can also be used to build someone up. I have seen people broken down by words, and I have seen them built up by words. The reactions, for the most part, have been vastly different. The examples I will describe next are not real events that I have witnessed, but illustrate how great words’ affect on people is.
To set the stage, imagine a crowded school hallway flooded with students, noise, and activity. A young girl, about twelve, stands timidly to the side of the hallway, visibly nervous. This is not unusual, because it’s the day of the year the children of America probably dread the most, of all the 365 days in the year: the First Day of School. The girl in question has chosen to wear a belt buckle. But not just any belt buckle. A BIG belt buckle. Imagine the biggest belt buckle a person could wear without falling forward because of the weight, and then imagine one twice that size. Suddenly, the girl is surrounded by a group of older kids. The popular crowd. You should have seen it coming. The kids begin to jeer the girl about her enormous buckle. “Hey, you should probably return that to whatever dumpster you got it from,” one of them says. The girl’s face begins to heat up, growing red and blotchy. She is about to cry. She stammers out an explanation of getting the buckle as a gift, then rushes off into the crowd, disappearing after only a moment.
The Rest of the Story
What happened after the girl ran off into the crowd? Well, she ran, crying, into the bathroom and locked herself in a stall. A few minutes later, another girl walks in. She is surrounded with the confidence of a middle school veteran. It is obvious that she has gone through the whole First Day of School charade before, and is at least a seventh grader or maybe an eighth grader. She cocks her head as the sound of crying reaches her ears. “Is anyone there?” she asks.
“Nobody.” Sniffs the young victim.
The older girl chuckles. “It doesn’t sound like nobody. Why don’t you come out?” The younger girl reluctantly emerges from her safe haven. The older girl’s eyebrows go up when she sees the belt buckle, but she quickly rearranges her face into a friendly smile. “That’s quite a belt buckle you’ve got there. Why don’t you tell me where you got it?” Warily, the sniffling girl begins to explain how her grandmother was a six-time rodeo princess, and how, in her will, the buckle had been given to the girl. When she is finished with her story, the older girl says, “That’s a very special buckle. Now if anyone says something to you about it, just remember, they weren’t lucky enough to have rodeo-princess-grandmas to leave them special buckles in their wills.”
And with that, the young girl wipes her eyes, dries her tears, and strides confidently out of the bathroom without another word.
As you can see, people’s very lives can be changes with mere words. What would you say if you knew that the young girl had often been bullied and teased in elementary school, because of her family’s lack of money? Or if you heard about how she was adopted when she was eight after both her parents and her grandparents had died in a car crash? Or even if you knew that, never again, the girl was subject to bullying. Why? Because if anyone dared to try, she held her head up high and kept right on walking. The next day, she would start a friendly conversation with the person. And it was all because of a few little words.