Do you remember being in the playground as a kid and either saying or hearing the following phrase? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yeah, that old adage that dates back to the mid 1800s, is a lie. In fact, sticks, stones and words have the power to kill someone – whether physically or emotionally. The power of our words are strong enough to start fights but also usher in peace. Sticks, stones and words can be used to build up and at the same time can be used to tear down.
Yet, as painful and life altering as this is going to sound, we don’t get to determine the impact of the hurtful words we speak. Yes, we do have the power to control our tongues, but we often allow our words to fly like bullets in the night. And in the event that we speak hurtful words, we tend to forget that it can actually cause devastating damage. When most of us speak hurtful words, we tend to follow them up with, “sorry you feel that way“, “you’re just oversensitive“, or “grow some and suck it up”, which only reveals a lack of maturity and escalates the chaos. This nearly 3,000 year old proverb echoes its simple yet relevant truth to us today – “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”. (Proverbs 18:21)
I just ended a 6 week sermon series on words we speak and as a recap I thought I would share 2 phrases that could end up being worse than sticks and stones:
1. Just Kidding! If you know me, you know I love sarcasm and being the quick witted guy that has a comeback for everything. But there’s a huge problem, not everyone is created the same and not everyone gets the joke. Not only that, being the brunt of a joke can be devastating. Even though I joke a lot (probably way too much) I don’t even like being the guy who is the brunt of the joke. For some reason we think that if we say something hurtful and add, “just kidding” to the end, it makes it okay. Well, it doesn’t. “Just kidding” may seem like you’re just throwing a twig at someone, but it could feel like a log to the person on the receiving end. As the old proverb says, “Like a madman who throws flaming darts and deadly arrows, so is the person who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking.” (Proverbs 26:18-19)
2. Well, I heard… Do I seriously need to get in to this one? This phrase has become more evident on social media. When there is a controversial topic going on, everyone seems to be experts on the subject matter. They ignorantly start off their comment by saying, “well, I heard…”, and then follow it with some hurtful jibber jabber. Well, do you know what I heard? YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. So, maybe we should do the world a favor and keep our ignorant opinions to ourselves. If it doesn’t bring a solution to the problem, then it may be best to keep it to yourself. “Well, I heard” is also a form of gossip – talking about a situation that has nothing to do with us or talking about a person without that person. C’mon folks…let’s put this one to death.
Like a small spark that lights a dry forest on fire, our words have the power to destroy everyone in its path. Sticks and stones hurt, but words have the power to kill, destroy, and rob us of our self-esteem. Maybe as a society we could step back from all of the daily bombs being tossed around and take the time to listen. Listening more and speaking less is a lost art in our culture.
The bottom line is that we are all uniquely wired, which means not one person is the same. We are white, black, hispanic, rich, middle-class, poor, and dirt poor. We are highly educated and we are uneducated. We are religious and non-religious. We are democrats, republicans, and even independents. We are addicts and we are struggling in our sobriety. We are happy, joyous, bitter, angry, anxious, depressed, content, and some of us are an emotional wreck. Yet one thing we have in common is that we have a mouth, and this mouth also has a muscle tissue known as a tongue. Might we all understand that this muscle tissue has more power than any stick or stone?
I challenge you to choose your words wisely. YES – engage in conversations, please! – but be kind, respectful and offer meaningful solutions. Offer words of freedom, grace, peace and justice when engaging in difficult conversations. Because your words can change the trajectory of a persons life – for the good or for the bad. Yes friend – your words are more powerful than sticks and stones. Sticks, stones and words have the power to tear down and the power to build up. Choose wisely.