Friday, 31 March 2017

Sticks and stones

The old saying goes "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Quite untrue of course, as unkind words can pierce like daggers for months or even years afterwards.

Sticks and stones are unlikely to do any serious injury, but telling someone they're stupid or ugly or useless can be highly disturbing, especially to someone who has little self-confidence in the first place.

I can still remember my father calling me half-witted, or naive, or self-centred, and that was over 50 years ago. Even if I tell myself I'm none of those things, the words still stick in my mind like a splinter in my finger.

A blogger once called me anti-semitic, although I've never been anything of the kind. Needless to say, I stopped looking at his blog, but the insult lingers on.

I've been called smug and self-righteous, which also stings because I'm always open to differing opinions and I know very well I might be misinformed or biased.

Cruel and nasty words can do immense damage. There are regular reports of school pupils who have killed themselves after persistent name-calling by other pupils.

People who were previously happy and bubbly can become mental wrecks in a matter of months when verbal abuse is flung at them day after day.

To realise how destructive words can be, you only have to think of the way they were used in Nazi Germany to dehumanise whole groups of people.

Newspaper columnists are well aware of how much words can hurt, and often seem to take a vicious delight in using the most offensive language they can think of against someone who probably won't be allowed to answer back.

Words can hurt. They can be brutal. They can be deadly.

32 comments:

Bijoux said...

Well, the internet is not the place to be for those who take cruel words to heart. Those who feel the need to lash out at others have their own issues; usually self-esteem is lacking and they need to criticize others to feel better about themselves.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I think you're absolutely right that they criticise others to feel better about themselves. A shame they can't get the same satisfaction from being kind rather than nasty.

Ursula said...

Oh, Nick, I do feel for you. However, there is a reason for saying that the word is mightier than the sword. Though, I personally rather face the word than a sword. My chances of survival higher.

You mentioned the "anti-semitic" remark before. I know who said it to you. Forget it. He is not to be taken seriously when it comes to politics. He is possibly one of those oldies so calcified that not even the most reasoned argument will make him stop in said tracks. He calls perfectly reasonable people under public scrutiny, albeit of a different (!) opinion to his, "idiots". Yes, "idiots". That's the sum of his reasoning. Word of advice, my dear Nick, talking politics rarely pays. And if you do engage (despite yourself) don't take anything personally. I know it's difficult - but there it is. Unlike you I don't walk away from people I find disagreeable. So, with aforesaid person I read with interest when he blogs about his garden, his France, but have no illusion that he will ever engage in civilized discussion when it comes to class, politics or Russell Brand. Insert chuckle (mine that is, not his).

You mention your father. It's one of the tragedies of life (and I don't use the word lightly) that parents have an enormous influence both by what they say and what they don't say. Unlike your father mine doesn't put me down. It's more insidious. So instead of taking serious a concern of mine (say, Brexit) he just poo poos it. Laughs it off. Forgive me my use of language, that is just shite.

U

Nick said...

Ursula: Ah, you know who I'm referring to. I certainly got the impression that his political views are fairly reactionary and not likely to change in a hurry. His comment still hurt though. I'm very interested in politics but I don't discuss it much online (or anywhere else) as (a) I'm usually preaching to the converted (b) heavy political ranting bores the pants off most people and only attracts other heavy political ranters and (c) most of my views have already been aired in the mainstream media ad nauseam.

As for disagreeable people, some of my blogmates and Facebook friends can be disagreeable at times (yourself included) but I'm equal to that. However I don't seek out people who're likely to disagree with me so profoundly that there's no likelihood of any common ground.

Your father simply refusing to engage with you is pathetic. And no doubt infuriating.

Hattie said...

Yes, laughing off those fascistic tendencies when they know they have offended.
They can bite me!

Nick said...

Hattie: I think politicos right across the spectrum delight in offending people and then claiming it was just a light-hearted off-the-cuff comment.

John Gray said...

Ive been called a bad film reviewer
That hurt more than hell

joared said...

Have to consider the source with some hurtful words, but when we're young, especially, we've really sensitive. Such words coming from parents, other people we trust and love can pierce us like a knife. Repeated verbal assaults really can wear down our psyche wherever it comes from. Sometimes just have to avoid people who repeatedly offend.

kylie said...

I seem to read a version of this post on a regular basis: someone recounts the childhood rhyme and then proceeds to explain how untrue it is only I think that whole story misses the point.
I'm pretty sure the rhyme is meant as a way of responding to the bullies, a way for the recipient to empower themselves. After all, sticks and stones will hurt, clubbing and stoning cause death but words only hurt if you let them. The rhyme reminds children that they have the power to decide which words will hurt.

kylie said...

oh and while it might not be the best ever weapon against bullying, any attempt to empower a victim has to be worthwhile

CheerfulMonk said...

I agree with kylie. Being called names is unpleasant, but we have the power of choice. It's harder when we're young, but the rhyme is designed to empower them.

Nick said...

John: A bad film reviewer? By what criteria exactly? Nothing wrong with your film reviews. It's just sour grapes.

Joared: I think you're right that hurtful words from someone we love and trust are especially upsetting. But I think we're always sensitive to certain accusations, not simply when we're young.

Nick said...

Kylie: That occurred to me after I wrote the post, that as you say it was emphasising people's ability either to shrug off insults or take them to heart. But I guess it's hard to shrug off insults if you're subjected to them day after day.

Jean: I'm sure there are very thick-skinned people out there who can still be deeply upset by an insult they're not prepared for and which hits a nerve.

Rummuser said...

written or spoken, live or on the net/ phone, yes they can when intended to hurt. The idea is not not to get hurt, but to get hurt but move on without prologing the agony. Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is entirely voluntary.

Nick said...

Ramana: That's a good distinction between hurt and suffering. Actually I've always been quite good at moving on and not letting things get under my skin. One or two insults have lodged themselves in my memory though.

tammy j said...

I like that too...
"pain is unavoidable, but suffering is entirely voluntary."
rummy summed it all up.
and seeing it and hearing it all now due to 'the age of technology' just makes me think that simple kindness is becoming a lost art. or... maybe it always was and people are just bolder than ever before.

Nick said...

Tammy: Simple kindness certainly seems thin on the ground these days. Anonymous hatred has become very fashionable. If all the anons had to reveal their true identity, you wouldn't see them for dust.

tammy j said...

anonymous always makes anything easier. like sir Paul McCartney says...
if slaughter houses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian.
i love that.

CheerfulMonk said...

"Jean: I'm sure there are very thick-skinned people out there who can still be deeply upset by an insult they're not prepared for and which hits a nerve."

Sure, but the question is how do you handle that hurt? If it's deeply disturbing maybe it's a sign we need do some more inner work. Yes, I know, most people don't respond this way, but it's a path I chose years ago and it works for me.

Nick said...

Tammy: Absolutely. If people could see exactly what goes on in slaughterhouses, they'd be so sickened they'd never touch a piece of meat again.

Jean: I'm sure you're right that some well-directed inner work/therapy would help to overcome the sense of hurt. But I think many people don't have the time or money or inclination to do that inner work. Which means a lot of unnecessary emotional baggage.

Anonymous said...

I never had the problem of getting hurt by words. I have a very strong personality and even if someone says something unpleasant about me , which can happen from time to time, it doesn't affect me cause I know who I am. I think it depends how parents give self assurance and self respect to their children. Mine did a great job for my brother and me. I do not understand how parents can hurt so deeply their children without feeling bad.
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: That's good that words never hurt you, that they just bounce off. I think you're right that a lot depends on whether parents have given their children a resilient personality. And yes, how can parents not feel bad about saying something obviously hurtful?

CheerfulMonk said...

"I think many people don't have the time or money or inclination to do that inner work. Which means a lot of unnecessary emotional baggage."

That's the point. It is an option even if most people don't take it. And it doesn't necessarily take money --- I cured myself of a phobia of dentists when I was sixteen by searching for answers in books from the library. That was the most empowering experience of my life. After that I had no excuses. No blaming other people for any problem. Just taking responsibility for my reactions plus commitment and practice.

Nick said...

Jean: Curing your dentist phobia was obviously a very formative experience. As you say, you realised that if you could overcome that, you could overcome all sorts of things. I remember curing myself of carsickness when I was young, simply by will power. Some school friends had invited me on a car trip round Scotland and I just decided I wouldn't be carsick any more.

I blame my parents for some aspects of my personality, but at the same time I knew it was up to me to overcome those hang-ups and make a success of my life, which I have done.

BrightenedBoy said...

A timely post, in light of the difficulties faced by the Western democracies today. The power of words is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, as a dear and long-term friend decided to remove herself from my life. It's funny how just a few words can change your perception of years of a relationship. I hope that you are able to make peace with the memory of words that were once leveled at you.

Nick said...

BrightenedBoy: Isn't it odd when someone you thought of as a good friend suddenly pushes you away for no obvious reason? It's happened to me a few times. I like the way you put it - making peace with the memory of words. I think on the whole I manage to do that.

Dave Martin said...

Thought I'd share the lyrics from my favourite song by my favourite band. Seems appropriate...

Enjoy The Silence - Depeche Mode

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world
Painful to me
Pierce right through me
Can't you understand
Oh my little girl

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Nick said...

Dave: I'm not a Depeche Mode fan, but that's a great lyric. I like the idea of words "crashing into my little world". Sometimes of course the words can be a flash of inspiration rather than a nuisance.

Jenny Woolf said...

This is so very true Nick. I suppose that the little rhyme came about to help children. I can remember people saying it to me when I was a child upset by some kid or other making nasty comments about me at school, and it was really quite reassuring then. But as I grew older I began to think about it more as you do now - I'm aghast at the damage that the gutter press (which now includes one paper that used to be a respectabe broadsheet not long ago) can do by spreading lies and nastiness.

Nick said...

Jenny: Indeed, the media spread all sorts of scurrilous abuse, often without checking the facts and with no sensitivity to the victim's situation. And as you say the supposedly respectable papers can sometimes be just as nasty.

Secret Agent Woman said...

My mother used to insist that her father's silence was so much worse than physical punishment. Which I thought was asinine since she never experienced that and stood by while we were. The truth is that sticks and stones can do a lot of damage and so can harsh words. Abuse in any form hurts.

Nick said...

Agent: Silence can as bad as physical punishment if you suspect it hides dislike or resentment or worse. Unpredictable explosions of anger, which my father was prone to, are also abusive. Unfortunately there are plenty of parents who just aren't fit to be parents.