Today, while taking a mental/emotional break from the negative stress and duties that my line of work brings to me, I stumbled across this picture on a social media post. The quote “The tongue has no bones, but it is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.” Given all that I have experienced in life, and all that I see through my career path right now, I can tell you that this is such a powerful and true statement. Words do hurt…and while the focus used to be on what is being said verbally, now with a majority of our communications being electronic and we have seemingly lost the human connection because of it, now more than ever, it counts for the written word as well.
STICKS AND STONES: Yes, I am well aware of the old saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” You know, to an extent that is true. People can say what they want but it’s not like anyone is going to take away your birthday with words. I also think that people need to have a certain level of a thick skin and ability to cope because some people are just giant jerks…but life does go on. People grow up, people learn to move past their own hurt that causes them to feel the need to hurt others, they learn from their mistakes, change their attitudes, break bad habits, and so on. So to all the “suck it up buttercup” minded people…I can agree…to an extent. I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have if I let everyone who said an unkind word to me really get to me. In fact, in some instances, it was only fuel to my fire for working hard to become better…better at whatever they were trying to tear me down over.
IT’S A DIFFERENT WORLD: At the same time, we are living in an entirely different world today. We have adults who don’t really understand the types of bullying and harassment that can go on now. Consequently that means that when their children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, come to them with problems relating to bullying now…they don’t really have an idea on how to address it. Heck, I know a lot of adults that don’t even know how to address it because it’s not just an issue targeting youth – many adults are now the subject of attacks, be it personally or maybe through reviews of their business. Now, of course, there is some basics and wisdom that we can all draw upon from when we were young…but there are other dynamics that are involved. It’s not because us “older” people are stupid and don’t know what it is like to be bullied – it’s just different…and in many cases, way worse than any of us ever had it growing up because we didn’t have all of this instant access and technology. More and more we are hearing stories of kids killing themselves because of bullying. I’ve read the stories – it’s heartbreaking. And why? What is the root cause? Is it because the kids are being coddled too much and lack coping skills? Or is it because of the new ways that people are being targeted through the use of technology and the seeming inability to get away from it?
STORY THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Coinciding with this exact topic, many years ago, in my early 20s (before all this social media stuff) I had a friend forward to me an e-mail that had been circulating. My friend knew that I had been going through a rough time in my life and I was struggling with my own reactions to what others were saying to me. Up until that point, there were times that I could be equally unkind to someone when pushed. Nevertheless, that one silly little e-mail, for whatever reason, resonated with me and forever changed the way I thought about the words that I would speak (or write) to someone. Because it was so impressionable upon me I will share a version of the same “Nails in the Fence” story here:
There once was a little girl who had a bad temper. Her mother gave her a bag of nails, and told her that every time she lost her temper, she must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.
The first day the girl had driven 37 nails into the fence.
Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails she hammered into the fence each day gradually dwindled.
She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than it was to drive the nails into the fence.
Finally, the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all, and she went to find her mother…When she proudly told her mother that she was able to control her anger, and didn’t need to hammer any more nails into the fence, her mother suggested that she now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper.The days passed and the girl was finally able to go back to her mother and tell her that she had pulled out all the nails from the fence.
The mother took her daughter by the hand and together they went to the fence.
She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same again. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like these ones that have been left by the nails. You can put a knife in someone and draw it out. But it won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound will still be there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.”
When I read that story, I realized that I was a lot like that little girl in the story. In conversations with friends about life I have repeated versions of this story to explain my way of thinking and why I don’t “fight back” sometimes. After all, when you are in an argument there is nothing more frustrating than when someone gets silent and gives the “silent treatment.” But to be honest, my silence is out of respect. Respect for myself, and respect for the person I am in a disagreement with. You see, I remember every harsh word uttered to me by those I loved the most. I also remember all the harsh words that were uttered to me by people I didn’t even care so much about. What I learned from this, through self reflection, is that people will likely remember any words that I say out of anger…even if I later apologize, because I remember. What I don’t really remember is all the times people were silent. I rather people struggle to remember all of the times I got silent rather than live with scars from harsh words that I could have said when I was angry.
TAKE A BREATHER AND BE MINDFUL OF YOUR WORDS: When you are dealing one-on-one, with someone in person, it’s always important to be mindful of your words…regardless of age. Children are the most impressionable. Furthermore, understanding that we are living in a different world, where written words can be out on the internet FOREVER, it’s important that each of us take extra care in what we write. You might be angry today, but as with all things in life and as my grandfather used to say, “this too shall pass.” Before you go all keyboard warrior on someone, take the time to calm down, breathe, and determine if what you are about to write will REALLY serve a purpose that is positive down the road. If the answer is yes, chose your words wisely and remember the “Nails in the Fence” story. If the answer is no, let go of the ego, and remain silent. What you write today can haunt you, and someone else, for life…and life is way too short to live with that kind of a burden.
Until next time friends…
P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.