“Stick and stones can break your bones but names will never harm you.”
Really? In fact, insults, teasing, malicious gossip and verbal abuse inflict deeper and more enduring pain than guns and knives.
Ask anyone who as a kid was fat, skinny, unusually short or tall, flat-chested or 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 taunting and ridicule more often than race or religion.
And it doesn’t necessarily get better. Unkind words, tasteless personal jokes, brutal 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 claim that words can’t hurt anyone we negate genuine feelings of those who are 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 are enormously powerful.
Yes, we should try to fortify our children’s sense of self-worth so that they can bear insults and sarcasm better. 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.