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 But they can be rendered angry, miserable, withdrawn and self-rejecting because by ridicule or rejection by their peers.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.