“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
It’s a common phrase we all grew up with. Maybe your parents said it to you as a result of something mean that kindergartener with ice cream all over his face said to you one day on the playground. Maybe it’s something you tell your kids today, trying to harden them to the harsh reality that not everyone “plays nice” when it comes to words.
The real harsh reality is that words affect us more than we even realize. I used to use the phrase, “I love that person, I just don’t like that person.” In my mind, this was a way for me to express my dislike of someone while also conveying the biblical principle of “loving my neighbor.” A few months ago I had a conversation with one of my junior high students whose parent said that same thing to him. “I love you, I just don’t like you.” In the student’s own words, he just doesn’t get the difference. To a junior higher, or any student for that matter, the difference between like and love is negligible, especially coming from a parent.
As leaders, we need to be more aware of the vulnerability that our students have to words, not just from their parents or friends, but everyone. When my small group guy told me that story, I immediately stopped using that phrase. I don’t know how many people I’ve come into contact with that could’ve reacted the same way to me saying it.
“Sticks and stones” might sound like a good principle to teach, but it’s just not practical. Sticks and stones do break bones, and words will hurt.
Have you had an experience with something you said that was “harmless” and it ended up being hurtful? Comment below.