“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
Really? Insults, teasing, gossip, and verbal abuse can inflict deeper and more enduring pain than guns and knives.
Ask anyone who as a kid was fat, skinny, short, tall, flat-chested, big-busted, acne-faced, uncoordinated, slow-witted, or exceptionally smart. In schoolrooms and playgrounds across the country, weight, height, looks, and intelligence are the subject of more taunting and ridicule than race or religion.
And it doesn’t get better. Unkind words, tasteless jokes, criticism, and ridicule don’t lose their sting when we become adults.
There’s nothing new about this. But if we trivialize how damaging words can be, especially to youngsters, the ethical significance of verbal assaults can be lost. When we say words can’t hurt anyone, we negate the feelings of those who are genuinely hurt.
Instead of minimizing the importance of words, we should encourage parents and teachers to demand a higher level of respect and greater sensitivity precisely because words can be so powerful.
Yes, we should try to fortify our children’s sense of self-worth so they can bear insults and sarcasm better. And we should urge them not to take what others say too seriously. But it’s just as important to teach them that words have the power of grenades and must be used carefully.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.