“I don’t know why I let him get to me. Sticks and stones, right?”
“Words always hurt me way more than sticks or stones.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
– Penguin & Ivy, Gotham
Season 3, Episode 16, “These Delicate and Dark Obsessions”
It’s one of those things that everybody knows but forgets all the time: words hurt.
When we think of pain, our minds revert to the most obvious thing: physical injuries. It’s part of how we survive and protect each other, I think, to begin with the worst-case scenario, the endangerment of one’s life. It’s something external, something we can actually point to and say, “That’s bad.” Certainly, the significance of any physical blow is not to be ignored.
After that, however, we forget that we aren’t just physical creatures. We are minds, hearts, and souls as well as bodies, and, like the body, any of these can be hurt. Even worse, such injuries can be every bit as grievous, far slower to heal, and may even, depending on severity and nature, come to affect the body. And since what is being hurt is intangible, so is the means to hurt them. Thus: the power of words.
Words hurt, be those words deliberately cruel or merely careless.
The upside, however, is that words can also help us to heal.
And, interestingly, so can physical gestures. A hug, for instance. 🙂
Of course, in understanding the harm words can do us, we should also keep in mind what constitutes a rational response. The rhyme that speaks of sticks and stones is intended to counsel a child to restrain the impulse for physical retaliation. Taunts are not always meant with malice, and even if they are, there is not always a need to fight back. One can be the better man, to rise above the insult and remain good-natured.
This is not the same as rolling over, though, and ignoring the hurt. To do that is like drinking poison in the hopes that it will heal you. But entertaining spite just because of some hurtful words is also like drinking poison, only in the hopes that the other person will be the one to die from it. Either way, it doesn’t work. Better to avoid the poison altogether.
Once again, it’s a question of balance.
Which, it is rather significant that I am quoting two mentally unstable villains who kill people who offend them. Their words might be true, but they are most definitely unbalanced in their response.
As much as words hurt, that’s no excuse for doing harm in return.