This post was originally published on Mormon Hub on December 19, 2016. Minor changes have been made.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Okay, listen up: I have some major beefs with this phrase.
Who exactly made up that “sticks and stones” quote? Because I have some questions for her (or him, but whatever). Was she having sticks and stones thrown at her? Things that seem like a bad idea to say when people are throwing things at you: “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” Uh, duh. That’s probably exactly what they’re trying to do, and now you’re just adding fuel to their fire by taunting them.
In all seriousness, though, my guess is that no one was throwing sticks or stones at anyone. My bet is that people were verbally attacking this quote’s creator and she (or he) wanted to prove that their words didn’t affect her.
And maybe their words didn’t hurt her. I commend people who are able to brush off insults or hurtful comments easily. That’s such a wonderful quality to have and I wish I were like that.
But honestly, I think that’s about the most dishonest quote in the world, besides “A penny for your thoughts,” because has anyone EVER come through on that statement? Plus, that’s the smallest amount of change you could give me. Horrible bribing strategy.
Truthfully, words are so powerful. They have the power to do so much good; the capacity to lift, inspire, and teach. Yet on the other hand, they also have the power to cause so much pain, suffering, and anguish.
Not-so-Nice Words that Changed My Life
To illustrate, I’ll tell you a story from my own life that still causes my heart to sink whenever I so much as think about it.
I was in 6th grade. His name was *Caleb (not his real name because hey, give him a little privacy!). He was so cute and funny and everyone liked him. He sat at my table in history class, and he said something to me. I remember blushing and feeling so excited that a cute boy had talked to me. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he made a comment about how I was “too fat” for him to ever like.
My heart plummeted and I had to leave the room as fast as I could so I wouldn’t burst into tears. His comment probably meant nothing to him, but it meant so much to me. It cut me to my core and knocked out a good deal of my self-esteem for many years, even after I had lost most of that baby weight.
That story still hurts my heart to this very day — and it happened so many years ago! Yet I can still remember it as vividly as though it were yesterday.
Now don’t get me wrong — by no means am I advocating holding a grudge. There’s no excuse for holding on to something for years and years and refusing to forgive. Forgiveness is essential.
We Can Forgive, But Can We Truly Forget?
We’re wisely told to “forgive and forget,” and I absolutely have forgiven Caleb, who I haven’t even seen since I was in 6th grade all of those years ago. But truthfully, I haven’t forgotten and I don’t think I ever will.
To be brutally honest, those little words that he may not have thought twice about uttering have shaped the way I see myself, even though I really, really wish I could say his words never affected me.
It’s not that I don’t want to forget. I would love to forget any mean thing that has been said about me, and I’m sure anyone who is reading this would agree. But try as you might to forget, words scar you.
But wait! It’s not all dismal. I promise this post isn’t my venting ground where I can talk about every bad thing that has happened to me, including all the times I had take-out leftovers waiting for me in the fridge, only to come home and find out my siblings had eaten them. (I know I said to forgive and forget, but come on. Eating my leftovers?! How dare they.)
While it’s true that words can cause a great deal of damage, the opposite is true as well. They can mold and shape your life for more good than you can imagine.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me, “Amy, you have the sweetest disposition. You are so kind and good.”
My grandmother lived with us and she said those words to me nearly every day. And I, young as I was, began to believe it. Because of my grandmother, I have spent most of my life with the belief that I am a kind person, and I’ve done my best to live up to that.
But would I feel that way if no one had ever told me that I was kind and good? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t want to find out. I’m just grateful that someone did tell me how kind and good I was, because it has changed my life and made me a better person.
We have more power than we know. We affect people’s lives in ways that most of the time, we probably don’t even realize. I can practically guarantee that Caleb doesn’t remember telling me I was fat, and if he did, he’d probably feel bad about it.
But unfortunately, I remember. I remember having to pretend “There’s something in my eye; can I please go to the bathroom?” so I could go cry. I remember when my middle school teacher said to me, in front of my entire class, “Are you stupid?!” or when another boy that same year told me I was ugly.
Thankfully, middle school didn’t go on forever. And while yes, I do remember the bad things, I also remember when Sylvia, a sweet girl I didn’t know very well, told me I should join choir because I had such a pretty singing voice. (If I’m remembering correctly, I think she heard me singing in a bathroom stall when I thought I was alone. #noshame)
I also remember when that cute boy in high school told me I was funny. I remember when a woman from my mission said that I was sent there just to help her. I remember so many people throughout my life that have helped me to feel loved and special.
As I’ve shared before, several years ago, my sister said something that impacted my life in a big way. She said, “You would never walk away from the Savior feeling bad about yourself; like you were beyond hope or beyond help.”
The Savior always makes us feel like we are enough. Even when He chastens us, He leaves us wanting to be better; He leaves us feeling more hopeful. He doesn’t discourage us or make us feel like we are terrible.
And if we’re commanded to be like the Savior, then surely our communications with others should be likewise. No one should walk away from us feeling bad about themselves or like they are hopeless and beyond the reach of divine love.
Everything we do and say has the potential to make a lasting impact on someone.
That’s a sobering thought, but it’s true.
At the end of the day, you never know what people will remember about what you’ve said or done. So make it good.
Amy Keim is the site manager and editor for LDSBlogs.com. She served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love mountains and despise snow. She has a passion for peanut butter, dancing badly, and most of all, the gospel.