“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Have you ever heard that saying before? I know I have, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before as well. Words will never hurt me? I wish that were true.
It’s funny though, I’ve been thinking about words for a number of reasons lately. In part, because of the fact that I put out words on a regular basis through this blog so you have to think of words in some ways. I also think about how we can see people use words, often poorly, when we interact with each other either online or in person. All this thought of words brought to mind a picture of glass.
I envision glass because I feel that words are simultaneously fragile and dangerous. I think of how often I worry about the words that I write because I worry that someone will barge in, shatter my words, my thoughts, and opinions with little care or concern that I’m a person just like them. Even worse I worry that nobody will care enough even to do that. When we tell people how we feel or our thoughts about something and our words are either dropped to the floor to shatter on the ground in apathy or actively shattered in antagonism, it displays just how fragile our words are.
The truth is in thinking about that, I wonder how often I’ve done the same. The times I’ve shattered words in my attempts to be right. The times that I’ve just not reciprocated at all and let the words crash to the ground shattering into a million invisible pieces. From the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, I’m assuming this is something I do more than I would like to admit.
For some I think we hold our words in because of how fragile they are. We don’t want to ever run the risk of those words being broken so we wrap them in layers and layers of protection and keep the stuffed deep down inside. They’re intact but never used, always in storage to stay safe, but I wonder if that is better or not.
After talking about the fragility of our words, it may seem contradictory to view them as dangerous as well. However, we can break glass fairly easily and still be cut by it at the same time. In a similar way our words can be fragile, but can also be dangerous and hurt us despite what the nursery rhyme quoted earlier implies.
Our words can be harmful, maybe not in the same way that sticks, stones, or glass can be, but harmful enough. Sometimes this is unintentional. It is done by being careless with our words or in our receiving of other peoples words and it is like dropping something glass. People get hurt because the words weren’t handled properly in the process and we can get harmed by the shards that are scattered around. It’s harming and being harmed due to carelessness not maliciousness.
However, there are times we harm with words very intentionally. We pick up pointy shards of glass and use it to stab and slice other people with. The intention is to go out and hurt other people with words. Sometimes this is done by shattering the words that others have put out there and then stabbing them with shards that remain.
Other times, we provide the words and simply set out to harm. This can be under the guise of being right, protecting our rights, or some other cause we believe to be noble. We can also wound others out of jealousy, retaliation, or dislike for another person. Sometimes it is about power, dominance, and being about to subdue others with our words. We can wound others in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons with our words.
So our words are so strange. On the one hand they feel so fragile sometimes. So easily broken. So easily taken out of context or dismissed without a second thought. On the other hand, we can so easily turn our words into weapons to harm. Sometimes it is the careless comment, other times we craft our words into shivs to stick other people with.
Being careful with our words and the words of others is something that I think we could all do better with. We’ve all tried to hurt people with our words and we’ve all treated other people’s words poorly. Now this isn’t a call to accept any argument without criticism or anything like that. It is about treating people like people. It is about caring about what people say and think, even when you’re trying to change their minds or correct them. It’s about treating other people’s words the way we want ours treated, especially when we disagree. Our words are like glass and I long for a day that the ground isn’t littered with shards of glass everywhere from our smashing of each others words.