Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sticks and Stones

As a child I heard over and over that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” Although you may have learned a slightly different version, I have concluded that after fifty–five years of painstaking research, the statement is not true. Besides, it doesn’t even rhyme and the rhythm is choppy.

Although this saying was intended to help children survive the cruelties of childhood, it ignores one glaring truth: words can indeed hurt. While it’s true that broken bones will heal, a sharp word may leave a wound that never completely heals and is easily reopened with a careless remark. Even adults, who should be long past the age of knowing better, still regularly run over people with their words.

Last Friday morning, when I backed the truck out of the garage, I felt something underneath the rear tires (don’t jump to conclusions – I hadn’t run over anyone, at least no one you knew). Although it wasn’t much of a bump, it was discernible – although not easily describable. I knew right away it was snow underneath my tires. Now, I grant you that snow in Minnesota during the month of February is not that unusual, but I was surprised I had felt it as so very little of it had accumulated on the ground. As I drove through a minor snowstorm, I mulled over what I had just experienced.

This short episode in my life may sound unbelievable or perhaps just unusual. I know I am hyper–sensitive (both emotionally and physically). I have been told so by many people throughout my life. The slightest irritation can annoy me, and while I go through the day itchy. I try not to be ____.  I suppose you could call me thin–skinned. But I wonder if my skin was thicker and I no longer itched or cared what was said to me, what would I lose as a result of being less sensitive? Why I would be even harder to live with.

I know I should become more sensitive to the feelings of others so I don’t trample them. I concentrate on my word choices and am constantly editing; I try hard not to say things that will hurt others. But, when I sense that I have, I will follow up with clarification and explanation and perhaps a rewording and even an apology to the point of being annoying. Yet, will all this effort, I continue to fail miserably.

Unfortunately, my poor wife is painfully aware of my shortcomings. As part of her tasteful efforts to decorate the house, she has selected the space above my dresser, the area I visit several times a day, to hang a simple, two–word phrase: Kindness Matters. I can only suspect this was hung with the hope of having an effect.

I have learned that, once words are spoken there is no taking them back; there is no reverse gear available to undo any damage. Sticks and Stones may break a bone, but unkind words make me feel sad and alone.

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