Growing up, I became familiar with the phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It's something my parents told me when I complained about being called names at school or by my siblings. This sort of became my mantra as I worked my way through elementary and then high school. Yes, I got called a lot of names. No, they didn't bounce off of me and stick to the other person.
The truth is, words do hurt. More than anyone is letting on.
As a writer, words are my life. And I understand how important they are. Also, I understand the power behind them. The pen is mightier than the sword didn't become a popular saying by chance. It's truth. Anyone who puts as much time into writing and crafting and creating as I do, recognizes how words can affect other people. They can render someone speechless, make them angry, cause them grief, bring a smile to their face and completely devastate them. Words can repel a person. Words can bring someone closer.
In this day and age, with blogs and emails, Facebook and Twitter, we are so careless with our words. We say things off the cuff. Comment without thought. Plaster our opinion wall to wall. Press send with rereading. Everything is open for discussion, comment, and interpretation. We live in this world where we are comfortable saying what's on our minds, what's in our hearts and often we do it without reservation, not taking into consideration how it influences or feels to the people around us. And, when something is said that hurts or causes concern, we rebuff with "it's only the Internet". This is something I agree and disagree with.
Yes, it is only the Internet. But that doesn't mean it isn't real. To some, it isn't. It's a playground where they can stomp about and do as they please, without consequences. To many, it's people they can walk away from without a second thought. For others, it is a world they put a lot of time and energy into. It is a place where they can express themselves. It is people who they care about, who they would be devastated if something bad happened to them.
Up until the last couple of years, I doubted whether you could connect with people over the Internet, whether you could honestly develop friends, or fall in love. In the three years I've been trouncing around, building my virtual world, I have been proven wrong. Words proved me wrong.
It is through words that I have allowed myself to open up to the possibility of friendships, love, companionship. And, as I move through my day-to-day, I watch people interact in a fashion that is both awing and frustrating. It is both beautiful and ugly. There are so many words being posted daily and, when I see the choice of words, how people phrase things, and what they opt to put out into the world, it confuses me. Because I wonder if people know how strong words are. How important they are. How they can change the very fabric of someone's being.
I've heard so many words in the last year. Some of the emails I've received have been simply gorgeous, while others gutting, and the things written to me have left me breathless and, at times, confounded. Words have been said that I don't understand, because I don't know how they apply to me, and things have been written that I can't believe anyone would ever write to me. Disbelief accompanies a lot of words thrown my way. Good and bad. And when I think about the words, what they've done, how they have affected me, I am both happy and sad. Because I am both pleased and hurt.
Unlike some other people, I choose my words carefully these days. I put a lot of thought into what I write. Why I write. If it's a comment on someone's status, an email, a message, or blog, I think about what I'm saying. And what it says to the world. In the past, I haven't. And I know I've hurt people. I know I've given the wrong impression. Most horrifyingly, I know I've given the right impression of the wicked parts of my heart. But as I grow and learn, I am more selective of what I say. Of the words I use. Because I understand how important they are.
They aren't only important to the people we direct them to, but the others who bear witness to what we write. And they are important to ourselves. It is the words we share that paint the picture of who we are in this crazy corner of the internetsnacks. It is how we phrase things. What we say. And who we say them to that is important. The truth is, we are our words. People take them literally. They take them to heart. They carry them with them. And, rather foolishly on my part, I take them as truth, even when they probably shouldn't be. It's true, we cannot control how people interpret our words, we cannot stop them from taking them the wrong way, but it is our job to deliver them in a way that makes it as clear as possible what we mean.
Our words are an extension of ourselves. If we hurl them at someone out of anger, it can work as a slap across the face. If we slip them into an email unthinkingly, a romantic tagline underneath our signature, it can flutter even the darkest heart. If we make a point to tell someone we love them, it might change the way they go about their day. And if we tell the truth, open ourselves up, we run the risk of the person taking flight. At the end of the day, words do hurt. And not always just the bad ones. The good ones can as well. It is with this thought in mind, that I select my words.
So often I see discussions degrade into name calling. What a travesty this is. It depresses me when someone intentionally uses words to hurt. It's sad when a person cannot use the full spectrum of language and are incapable of articulating what they mean without an eff-word or an insult. Have we not evolved past calling someone ugly? Or stupid? Or tagging a 'moron' onto an end of a statement? It seems so callous. Juvenile. And ever-lasting.
After all, sticks and stones may leave bruises, but words remain forever.
Except, there is one thing that lingers behind longer than any word. Nothing. Sometimes a lack of words can be the most hurtful. A hesitant pause, most baffling. Complete disregard, most damaging. Being quiet can be the ultimate screw you, without even trying. The message sent, so clear. And it can also be powerful. A reminder you are listening. Confirmation you care.
Sure, words speak volumes, but silence trumps everything.
Choose your words carefully. And your silences even more so.
Toodles and Teeny by Gillian Neimark
3 hours ago