We’ve all heard that old children’s rhyme, sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. Well, that old saying is a lie. Words have the power to hurt, even to the point of lacerating a person’s soul.
Bullying is not a new concept and has been going on for as long as there have been children and bullies. Like so many children, I was bullied for my hair, my clothes and even for liking and doing well in school. Also, like so many, I had to find ways to survive. My mother’s advice to “ignore the bullies”, “to not be so sensitive” and “to toughen up” didn’t help.
However, talking and using big words did keep me out of fights. I was also known to make up words and throw them into conversations. For instance, if a mean girl stepped into my face, without flinching I replied that “hypodermically speaking you really need to step off!” To which she would shake her head and mutter, “hypo-what?” Thinking I was crazy, she stepped off, thank God!
I realized I was onto something. The next time another mean girl said something to me I replied, “Well, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to you” (from Mary Poppins), then flounced away, inwardly patting myself on the back for escaping yet another fight.
You would have thought the mean girls would have taken the hint and left me alone, especially when the voices in my head started up. You know, “Shut up! No, you shut up!” But no, yet another got into my face. Before she even got started I went, “Yabba dada do” (from The Flintstones cartoon), much to her bewilderment. She too quickly flounced away, but not before looking back at me as if I were crazy.
On another occasion, I jumped up and clicked my heels together like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. In hindsight, wearing a pair of ruby red slippers instead of my black and white oxfords would have really been cool.
I was on a roll, once yelling, “Moo Goo Gai Pan”, which is an Asian dish, not a phrase. “Moo Gai! Moo Gai!” I yelled, adding arm flaps for more emphasis. In shock, the mean girl momentarily stopped in her tracks, before taking off running, albeit trying to do so in a cool way, never once looking back.
My crazy responses worked until entering high school when a whole new kind of Hell began. But, by that time, I ignored it as there were more important things to worry about like how I was going to get money to go to college.
Did the hateful power of words stop once I reached adulthood? One would think so but no. Sadly, the mean girls had grown into catty women and the backhanded compliments ran rampant. Alas, it has happened to all of us from time to time.
There we are, minding our business when someone compliments us in a way that stings. You have probably heard this: “You have such a pretty face; you would really be pretty if you lost some weight.”
Or how about this? “You would really be cute if you did something different with your hair.” Better yet: “You would look so much prettier if you wore makeup, swapped your glasses for contacts, painted your toenails red, white and blue and … (you fill in the blanks).
Even an innocent comment from a younger person, “I want to be just like you when I get your age”, can sting. Even though adults are supposed to know better, many of us have made statements without realizing how it might be received:
Whether folks realize it or intend to, their words frequently hurt our feelings. Today’s social media is ripe with folks who think nothing of bullying others or shaming them at every turn. The nastier their comments are, the more it gives license for others to join in. Hiding behind their little hashtags and supposed anonymity emboldens this type of bullying.
Not allowing others’ words to affect me hasn’t always been easy. Truthfully, there have been a lot of tears and, admittedly, a whole lot of Scotch but I have succeeded. Consequently, having been on the receiving end of these hurtful comments, I watch how I speak to others. You know the old adage: “If you can’t say anything nice. . .”
Author Carol Gee
Retired military Air Force Veteran Author, Columnist and Motivational Speaker
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P.S: Recently, I was honored to be interviewed for the book, Dos And Don’ts For Bully-proofing Your Child. The author, Markus Horner, who was bullied due to suffering from numerous disabilities, from childhood even into his adult years. Dos And Don’ts For Bully-proofing Your Child shares poignant personal anecdotes as well as statistics on the subject. I invite all those who have children, teachers and others responsible for children, to read it.