Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stones and sticks

An newspaper article I found today goes into my collection of 'keepables'. It demolishes the old saying about "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." That saying is not true, at all. The little rhyme is taught to kids as a way to deal with it when others torment them with name-calling; and it's humbug. As the article says, ( and didn't we all know it!)the pain from emotional bullying lasts longer and can be re-lived more than that from physical bullying.
In Australia this last few weeks there have been suicides by high school students who were victims of bullying, much of it emotional rather than physical. Some schools are getting a serious wake-up call. They will have to act on the issue rather than taking the convenient way out, telling students to 'just ignore it', or teaching them that silly little rhyme. It should not be news anyway. The body may bruise, even be quite badly injured, but the physical body does not register emotional as sharply as the mind does. Children may suffer hundreds of bruises and grazes, even broken bones, having accidents like falling off bicyles, or swings, or simply falling over when running around. Playing sport can leave you with sprains and fractures. They heal. I don't recall someone being permantly traumatised over a broken arm or leg. But they can be rendered angry, miserable, withdrawn and self-rejecting because by ridicule or rejection by their peers. One victims' support group states that social pains causes more lasting hurt than physical injury. They mention the case of a 13-year-old girl who can't look at her mobile phone texts because for two years she was sent bullying, threatening ones.
No-one can judge all others by themselves, and that includes me; but from personal experience I know this: a broken collarbone, physically painful for several days, was not as bad a thing as feeling scorned or rejected by people who you thought were friends; or simply targetted for trashing by people at my high school who couldn't get a life any way except by dumping on others, including me. You get better at coping with it; but psychological pain can damage more than much physical pain or injury.
It seems that words can make a much bigger difference than blows. When someone says "Words can never hurt.." etc it might be worth asking them why do we have slander and libel laws?
Taking a slightly different tack:if it came to a choice between greater and lesser evil, which would be easier to cope with? Being slapped, even punched; or being back-stabbed or emotionally tormented, by someone who was clever at it? It might be an individual thing.
So the tongue can be a weapon, and we all need care how we use it. That being said, there is a need to safeguard freedom of speech. There is a balance needed there. It comes down to the motive: why do we say what we do? To say what we feel needs to be said, or out of anger? There is a big responsibility involved in using 'only words.'
Of course there is an upside to this, as well. Just as we can be hurt by words, we can conquer and overcome with words. If we have a truth to speak, and speak it plainly, the word can prove mightier than the fist, just as it's said: "The pen is mightier than the sword".
If you doubt it, look at this example. The most shocking brute force was used to destroy the body of Jesus Christ. Crucifiction is thought to be the most agonizing way known to kill a human. But even as Jesus body was (temporarily) destroyed, His words were not. Followers of Jesus have died in the body for their beliefs. But His words have changed the world, and still change lives and situations; and the worst that the most cruel villains on Earth can do cannot stop this. Jesus did not use weapons, He used words. And all the armies of the world could not and can not stop Him.


Randi Jo :) said...

awesome!!!!!!! I understood the power of words - or understand it at least a little...

BUT I never thought about that rhyme and words vs. physical torment. What a great realization for all of us - especially those with kids -- althoguh we as adults will endure that emotional bruising as well.

aweswome entry! :) thanks again

Gisselle G said...

your welcome clark!!
bye ;)

Farrah said...

I was chatting with my neighbor from Asia recently about problems with our public schools and why we homeschool. She told me that in her country, bullying during school is not tolerated AT ALL. If a student is caught bullying, he is likely to be expelled. It is so extreme, in fact, that when a class goes on outings, "spies" are sent to the area to watch the students in secret and make sure they are behaving.

I am not saying it should be this extreme, but I do think we need much more strictness in schools and more severe punishments for bullies and disruptive children.

jel said...

YA Got that Right!

words can hurt or heal a person!

hope y'all are well!

take care!

Marshall Art said...

I have to disagree. While I believe there are limits to what might be tolerated, for the most part I believe that kids should not be overly protected from such things. Childhood is education. What a child endures is often that which has an adult version. On either side of the bullying equation, a child is developing. On one side, a child is learning to dominate, on the other, a child is learning to cope or learning to assert or learning to defend, or all of these in varying degrees. There are signs that each child gives to indicate on which side of the bullying equation the child resides. Parents and educators need to develop the means by which they can readily recognize the signs to guide the child through the situation in a manner that teaches the child advantageous lessons.


One of my step-daughters was a bit on the gangly side while she transitioned from child to pre-teen to teen. She was self-conscious of her appearance and how she was perceived by her peers. She took some ribbing that really hurt her feelings, and she sought my advice.

Knowing she always had a great sense of humor that was older than she, she really caught double-entendres that sailed over the heads of her friends, I asked her if any of the stuff anyone had said was really funny, if it wasn't directed at her. She said, yeah, sometimes. So I told her that if someone mocks her, and what they say is actually funny, then she should laugh. Why not? The fact that she thought it was as funny as did her antagonist meant one less attack was fatal. The attacker often didn't understand the response to his attack. Her respect level rose from within the attacker's audience and she became a less enjoyable target.

But if the comment wasn't funny, wasn't in the least bit clever, I suggested that she offers the guy another chance to say something clever. "Oh, you can do better than that. Why don't you give it another try?"

My daughter is even more sensitive, but the basic tactic still works for her.

The main thing, however, is what I insist they remember at these times, and that's what they believe about themselves. There's no way words should ever hurt them, unless there was doubt in their minds regarding their own worth. By the time verbal bullying even begins, one's kids should have a pretty good sense of themselves so that, even if they get pissed, they aren't emotionally devastated and it won't have any lasting effect.

I also tried to teach the kids to hear what the mocker says and honestly assess whether there's any truth to it. I mean, what the heck, if one is honest with one's self, a critique can be helpful even if it came from a jerk. Yet, if it's blatantly false, why, daughter dear, would you waste a moment's attention on such things? Indeed, such behavior is truly an indication of the mocker's character, who may himself be very insecure.

These are a few things that worked with a couple of my kids. If one's kid actually believes what is being said about them, or rather, if they are concerned that people might hold with the gossip, that needs to be addressed.

But bullying is certainly a clue for kids as to what life has in store for them, and a certain level of steely nerve needs developing in every child. Shielding them from all bullying will not help them to develop skin thick enough to deflect all the worthless data being thrown their way. If that stuff just blows by them, they'll recognize the really important stuff more quickly as well as be better suited to handle things.

Anyway, that's the way I see it.

Farrah said...

The notion that children need to be toughened up to "survive" the adult world is a common theory used to make people feel better about the problems in public schools, but I haven't seen any concrete evidence that it is true. I have not seen a need for this in my own life or in my husbands. We both found that once we entered college, it was very rare to encounter bully-type people or situations. It has now been 10 years since we graduated. He has worked at the same company all this time, interacts with people on a daily basis, has seen lots of bosses come and go. I interact with people all the time. We show people kindness and respect and find that for the most part our acquaintances are reasonable. I can't imagine what sort of life an adult would lead in order to need such cruel and hard lessons.

On the other hand, I have seen bullying "break" children, tear them down until they snap. Some have committed suicide and some have gone on shooting sprees to take revenge on their persecutors.

The joy of learning can be lost to fear and beautiful talents lost or hidden when children are conditioned to make themselves invisible. I can look back and see how bullying caused me to hate school, and that's the only thing I know that it really did for me.

I don't believe there is any good reason to allow a bully to dominate others. Expel them. It will send a much needed message to them and their parents that such behavior is not appropriate in a learning environment.

Andrew Clarke said...

I can see what Marshall art says about people learning to handle life, just this far: learning to get on with people involves learning to tolerate personalities that do not interact readily with your own, and accepting being challenged sometimes. We might have to learn that certain things happen, and we have to be ready, but that's not to say we have to accept it as right. There is a difference between learning to give and take, and being victimised. Some people I've known have simply become indrawn and unresponsive to others because they get picked on; and others have learnt to resist it by becoming aggressive themselves. It is not good for a bully to be allowed to continue such behaviour,
quite apart from the rights of people not to be bullied. The two are not quite the same - learning to cope with people, and having to be trashed and hurt. A civilized society should avoid 'pecking orders' in which some are always dominated by others. It's complicated, I know. But certain principles set humans apart from animals. And never doubt the power of words. What did Jesus use? His legions of angels, or His words?

Marshall Art said...


I'm not in any way encouraging bullies to proceed. Not at all. They need guidance for sure in order to learn how hurtful they're being.

I was focussing on the victim. Left to their own devices, the victims can indeed withdraw or develop hurtful behaviors of their own in order to cope. But I don't expect that they should be left to their own devices, but rather, should be guided as to understanding that words really DON'T have any more power than that which we give them.

I feel the same way regarding any name calling or more particularly in the use of racial epithets. The victim of such a verbal attack inflates the power of the word used against them when they react emotionally. A better retort would be no retort or one minus any real semblance of hurt received. Why let the other person dictate how you should feel?

When a black person is referred to as a "nigger", it shows without a doubt the character flaw of the aggressor. If the victim reacts emotionally, it is also a flaw in the victim. The victim's anger or sorrow of "feeling of victimhood" actually perpetuates the racism.

Let the bully talk (from the victim's perspective) because words are only words. Don't give him the power by crying over his words.

I hung with a group of guys in high school that relished being as vile as possible to each other. One's race, ethnicity, mother even, were all open targets, and the more brutal the remark, the more we laughed our asses off. Others outside the group couldn't understand it, but we couldn't understand why anyone would get so upset. We thought it was apparent when someone really meant ill that it wouldn't matter what words were used. So the words themselves had no power against us, but the mood of the attacker did. We just didn't care about the words themselves (and often would adopt that which seemed to be a really good shot against us).

Andrew Clarke said...

Understood, Marshall art. I can see what you are getting at - enabling the victim to cope rather than go down under it. Fair point.