I remember being bullied at school. I mostly got bullied because I was fat.
I remember grown ups telling me not to pay any attention to the bullies. They said, if I didn’t pay them any attention they would get bored and leave me alone. I also got told that ‘sticks and stones might break my bones but words could never hurt me.’
The phrase means that hurtful words ‘cannot cause any physical pain and thus can be ignored or disregarded.’
The thing is, this adage, this old childhood chant, simply isn’t true. It very possibly might have had some truth once upon a time, a long time ago before social media existed, but not today.
I get where it’s coming from, don’t let the words in, don’t let them hurt you.
Did anyone else get told this phrase when they were a child? But the simple truth is that words can hurt. They can hurt a lot. And for a very long time. Arguably words can stay with us for longer than the physical pain of sticks and stones.
This is also a worrying message, in that we’re not supposed to be hurt by words. Are we supposed to bottle up the hurt and keep on going? Do the children of the ‘sticks and stones generation’ have a default to brush off the words and battle on?
And when we brush things off or bottle things up, when we don’t feel safe or able to talk, that’s when problems start to fester. When we ignore the bullies, whether they get bored or keep on going let’s not pretend that their impact is not felt. It’s felt in the moment and those words can also linger in our memories for a lifetime.
According the mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in any given year. The single best thing we can do in those moments is to talk about how we feel and not to pretend that words don’t hurt.
Whatever your job, you have a responsibility to be thoughtful to those around you. You don’t know what’s going on for your colleagues, customers or clients. Choose your words carefully and in a world where you can be anything. Be kind.