I don’t remember where I first heard this, but I know that as a child, I have been told this saying, many times. I said it once, when a classmate made fun of me for being short. I said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” simply because it was something I learned as a child. However, it wasn’t entirely true. Those words did cause me pain, and it was at that moment that I began to feel self-conscious of my height. I stood on my tip toes just to be half an inch taller. I hated being next to taller people, as it only made me feel smaller. I felt insignificant and unspecial. Upon hearing this, my classmate proceeded to say even louder how short I was so those around us could hear. In fact, this saying encouraged her to continue taunting me. After all, didn’t I tell her that “names will never hurt me”?
After that incident, I never said it again. I truly felt that names did hurt me, often more than “stick and stones.” Perhaps “stick and stones” physically hurt more, especially in the moment. But as one of many children who has been called names, made fun of, or gossiped about, there is a different kind of pain – a different kind of feeling – that arises from being verbally bullied. It is humiliating. It can push past physical pain and cut deeper into a child’s mental health, affecting him/her long after the incident. It isn’t necessarily true that words hurt less than physical bullying.
Whenever I was verbally taunted, it lowered my self esteem, and when people my own age who I thought were my friends said mean things to me, I even began to believe them. Since this saying was so popular when I was younger, I felt ashamed that I did feel sad when someone said negative things about me. I felt like I was not mentally strong, especially compared to my fellow classmates. This saying confused me and made me think that there was something wrong with me. It almost seemed wrong to be sad or feel pain whenever I was called names.
I refuse to say this phrase to others, especially children, because it might make them feel like there is nothing wrong about putting others down. If kids hear that “names will never hurt me”, they might think that it is okay to call another child names. Children might think that they are being funny or simply joking, and they might not understand how much it can affect another child. They need to understand that it is not right to verbally taunt someone else. It could start with something small like “You look funny” or “I don’t like you.” As the child gets older, this could escalate. “You look funny” could quickly turn into “You’re ugly, fat, and not good enough” and in a more extreme case, “I don’t like you” may turn into “The world would be a better place without you.” Who’s to say that “names will never hurt me?”
I would not recommend adults saying this to children. In a world where technology and social media are so prevalent, children must be taught how impactful words can be, whether that be positively or negatively. Social media makes it so accessible and easy for someone to put down others. I have seen firsthand just how common cyberbullying is, and the way this has affected many students is devastating. Words have such a powerful effect. One simple word can build someone up, in the same way that it can completely tear someone down. It just takes one word, one phrase, one name.
If I could make any change to the phrase, I would turn the phrase into this: “Sticks and stones break my bones, and words pierce my heart, mind, and soul.” People need to be more aware of the power words hold. As mentioned before, all it takes to bring someone down is one word. And humans tend to focus on the negatives. For example, no matter how many compliments a person receives, one negative comment will change his/her entire day. The person feels stuck in this negative mindset, focused only on that one mean comment.
It is very common for us to feel hurt by words; however, we can also do something about it and help others get through it. We can try learning to have a positive mindset and shake off what someone said. It takes time to heal, but it can be done. It is possible that staying positive through difficulties can even strengthen us. Or maybe we can just be nice to everyone and build each other up.