It’s odd. As children we were taught that ‘sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us’. And yet, when you really think about it, words are the things that stick with you. The things people say to you are the things that, if we allow them to, shape us to our very core. We’re always told how important positive reinforcement is for a child, and how devastating it can be if one is emotionally abused, teased and lambasted. So then why the proverb? Why deny the very things that hang over us? The things that define us? The things that translate how those around us feel about us?
Sure, some would argue that ‘actions speak louder than words’, and yet, without those words actions mean very little. We forget the good things and most often remember the bad, especially when said with words that aim to destroy our character.
Strangely, even the good words can be hidden weapons. I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry. Thank you. All of these are potentially tainted. Said too often they lose their meaning and become empty vessels which imply the opposite of what they intend. I don’t love you; I say it to hide the emptiness in our relationship. I don’t miss you; I merely want it to appear that I thought about you when in fact you’ve never mattered. I’m not sorry; it’s just an obligation to clear the air and make myself seem like the better person. And I am certainly not thankful; otherwise, I’d have to admit that I owe you something, some favour, somewhere down the road.
But then again, words are magical things. They’re the possibility and the inspiration to take you away from that hurt, pain and emptiness. Shaped by imagination and the vigour of the most perfectly constructed phrase, one is able to feel love and meaning through just a few syllables strung together. I love you; you’re my everything. I miss you; I couldn’t imagine being without you. I’m sorry; watching you hurt is the greatest punishment I can endure. Thank you; I owe you everything.
Strange how such tiny fragments, arbitrary etchings, can be so devastating and yet so unequivocally beautiful at the same time. Orwell’s Newspeak would probably replace the term with hatelove or emptyfull; those things that can do just as much good as they damage. And still, we pretend they don’t matter. Those sticks and stones however…