An Encouraging Word — Words can hurt or inspire

Words can hurt or inspire
Father J. Ronald Knott

Balance and weigh your words. Sirach 28:25

As a child, “name calling” was a regular part of life. I was both perpetrator and victim. As a skinny, little, underweight kid, one of my few defenses when I was a verbal victim was to pretend that it didn’t hurt when I was called names. I remember a little song that we used to sing back to those who wanted to deliver a hurtful verbal punch. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”

That was not only a very poor coping mechanism, it was a big fat lie. Dave Barnes, in his song, “Sticks and Stones,” is more truthful. “I’d rather have sticks and stones and broken bones than the words you say to me, cause I know bruises heal and cuts will seal but your words beat the life from me.” The reality is that words can be just as painful, scarring and brutal as “sticks and stones.”

“Name calling” has escalated dramatically since I was a child, especially with the introduction of “social networking” technology. Hardly a week goes by that we do not hear about another teen suicide as a result of “cyber bullying.”

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. For every actual suicide among young people, there are at least 100 attempted suicides. More than 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost seven percent have attempted it. A study in Britain found that at least half of the suicides among young people are related to bullying.

Even more insidious and destructive are those harsh words we use on ourselves. When we turn “name calling” inward, it can be even more lethal. Sometimes we repeat to ourselves the sentiments we have absorbed from others and have come to accept as true, and sometimes we create the condemning messages personally. “Self-bullying” is not talked about as much, but it is destructive nonetheless.

Words are powerful for good and bad, especially when they come from parents, priests, teachers or others in authority. Bishop Sklba, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, put it this way, “People can be deeply hurt for life by a casual flippant remark or inspired forever by a genuine gesture of compassion and kindness.”

Children’s esteem can be damaged or built up depending on the words they hear, especially when they hear them from those who are supposed to nurture them.

The most practical solution is to become strong enough inside not to allow other people’s words to hurt us. We may not be able to control others, but we can learn to replace their discounting words, as well as our own self-scolding lectures, with positive affirmations.

As one spiritual writer put it, “It is easier to put on slippers than it is to carpet the world.” W. C. Fields said it this way, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to!”

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