Whoever coined the phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was an idiot. Words are the most powerful weapon, aside from, you know, nukes.
There are sentences that stick with you. Cut you to the core. They represent turning points in your life because after those words enter your mind, the way you think about something or someone changes forever.
Something a stupid boy said to me when I was in 3rd grade, for example, still echoes in the back of my mind sometimes when I'm feeling self-conscious. The little big-eared bastard probably never gave it a second thought the moment the words flew out of his mouth.
It seems the more you want to forget something, the more it burns on your mind. I guess it's because in the few seconds it takes to say it, it defines your thinking. It defines you.
Strange how at first the words are intended to tear you down--oh and they do--but I've also found that once you take a step back, breathe, let the words and the new realities and knowledge that comes along with it sink in, it can actually empower you.
I broke my ankle when I was a teenager. Actually, I didn't just break it--the bone flipped 180 degrees, I had to have surgery, and they had to put in screws. I think this would be an example of how exactly one gives 110%. Cast, moon boot, and some physical therapy and I was back in business. My ankle is now stronger than my other, never-broken ankle.
I think of life the same way and I'm afraid it ultimately is a cliche-ish outlook, but it's still true. I've been broken down to nothing but shambles. I've felt like a hollow shell. I've hurt so much I wish I could go numb. I have been devastated by individuals I loved.
I survived. I picked up the pieces and built myself back up. You know what? I'm stronger.
I came across this quote: "Words have the power to destroy or heal."
I'd argue that the same words have the power to do both.
There have been times in my life when the words that destroy me also set me free. It's unpredictable because in a few of those cases, I let hurtful words eat away at me for years and I kept allowing it, glutton for punishment apparently. Then one sentence suddenly flips a switch. The words allow me to let that person go.
It's interesting. While writing this blog, I considered the fact that I fancy myself a writer. I've done some form of fiction writing since elementary school. I remember going to a statewide Young Author's Conference in Florida when I was maybe in 3rd grade(?) I can't remember exactly, but we did workshops and Madeleine L'Engle was a special speaker. (She wrote one of my favorite books from childhood-- A Wrinkle in Time.) Basically, the writing bug has been a part of me for most of my life. The subject matter has changed quite a bit and my writing no longer features my own illustrations of course, but I feel a pull to express myself in this medium. I've done some workshops more recently with good response, but I have yet to pull the trigger on getting published.
A lot of the time, I'll write just to get thoughts out there. It's often emotion-filled and my fingers slap the keys with a fierce vigor...and usually the writing is poor and gets tossed or deleted. It still has meaning and still serves a purpose. It's the same concept as writing a letter to someone who has deeply hurt you, divulging every detail of how you feel...and then you destroy the letter. You got the thoughts out there, you expressed yourself, and you feel better. The words needed to be said even if the person never reads or hears them. Again, a defining moment.
I still hope to have something in Barnes & Noble one day. (Hopefully not strictly in the bargain section either.) I do, after all, write things not based around my own life. It's just that I find the story doesn't work until I wrap my mind around the emotions and the motivations of the characters. This is time-consuming...and a bit draining.
Now what occurred to me was the fact that, as a writer, I get to take control of words. I hold the power. I can conceivably impact anyone who stumbles upon my writing and make them feel something. I can use past experiences and metamorphosize (to use a common word from Wrinkle) the emotions of those experiences into the experiences of the characters. Even if those emotions aren't always happy, it's empowering to create something from it. It's invigorating to manipulate sentences and details to weave a story.
So I would add to my observations about words--that they can destroy and/or heal...and they can be therapeutic. Whether they are spoken and not even materialized into text on a page or computer monitor, or if they are the cherished works of such greats as William Shakespeare or Jane Austin, words are extremely powerful. They can create worlds...and they can destroy them.
Now, I wouldn't go into battle simply with the armor of my words. That wouldn't hold up very well against, well, anything. In day-to-day life though, I'd like to resolve to speak more carefully, avoid saying regretful things that can't be taken back because I've been on the receiving end of it. Many times it's a matter of not really thinking before speaking or in the technological age in which we live, texting or sending an email. I don't think anyone gives enough credit to the power of their words. Someone can completely alter your perspective on an issue. They can open your mind. They can close your mind. Their hyper-criticism can make you self-conscious. Their thoughtfulness can turn your mood around. Someone can unintentionally give you hope or they can casually break your heart.
So yes, sticks and stones hurt. No doubt. Actually the mental image of that expression kind of stops me in my tracks--I get the visual of being pelted with sticks and stones by angry villagers or something--but that's beside the point. I think words could easily have the same side effect warnings as certain medications only available with prescription. We all know how lovely those lists are. Simply stated, use with caution. Words are powerful.
(Even hollow ones. Those can even get you elected President of the United States...