“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” – Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)
When I was a kid I remember watching a movie on Disney Channel about racism against black people in the United States. I think I don’t remember anything about the movie, not even its name, other than a single phrase that stuck in my mind up to this day: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt”. I’ve always wondered whether this was a true statement.
I personally believe this statement couldn’t be any further from the truth because while as sticks and stones can break your bones, words can break your soul. Sadly we don’t realize the full extent and magnitude of this truth until it’s too late.
We think that the people who are hurt most in life are the people that were faced with tragedies while growing up (tragic death of a parent or a close family member, physical abuse, war, poverty, illness…) and the people who were merely hurt by words we tend to consider as the attention seeking drama queens. I mean how does being called names when you’re a kid even compare to being sexually abused by your father, right? However, while the latter sounds way more tragic than the former, allow me to say that being hurt is simply, being hurt. Whether a little girl loses her mother or whether she is called ugly, she is either way hurt. And while we as adults take the liberty to rationalize and estimate the amplitude of the hurt on the kid, that still doesn’t change the fact that a hurt kid is a hurt kid. A wound was made and that wound will leave a permanent scar.
We might not realize it, but kids aren’t born hurt nor are they born with a predisposition to get hurt selectively by life’s offenses. What I mean is that a kid does not choose what hurts and doesn’t hurt him, a kid is just hurt. And believe it or not, a kid while growing up will see himself the way people see him and when that identity is established, people will in turn see him the way that he sees himself. Let me give you a few examples. If a kid is regarded as ugly while growing up because he’s fat, he will believe that he’s ugly and later will project to others the image that he’s ugly even if he is in fact beautiful! A kid that is called stupid throughout his childhood will see himself as stupid and believe this lie his entire life, thus locking his true capabilities by being his own worst enemy.
The other extreme is that this offended kid will try to do everything that is in his power to project the exact opposite of what people see in him, but to his own hurt. When I was a kid, I remember often being called a girl because I was very sensitive and almost anything offensive would make me cry. I remember one day I couldn’t take it anymore and said to myself: “I will never cry again no matter what. I will harden my heart so that I wouldn’t be hurt anymore”. And it worked! Up until recently, I had become a very cold person who was unmoved by anything. I didn’t realize it back then, but in my attempt to defend myself, I made a decision to hurt myself and the people around me by hiding sensitivity which is something pure, right and very manly.
“Hurt people hurt people” – an expression that I heard recently and that I extremely adhere to. Why do people who are hurt hurt other people? Simply because they want justice for what’s been done or said to them, the justice they never had and think they’ll only get by identifying to their offenders. We think murderers, serial killers, criminals, pedophiles and tyrants are monsters, but we fail to realize we’ve created them. We fail to realize that behind every “monster” there’s a hurt kid who just wants justice for whatever wounds the scars of which he still carries, a hurt kid that just wants to feel loved, accepted and belonging.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” – Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV).
This is an excerpt from Jesus’ sermon on the mount, that I never really got until I understood exactly what Jesus meant: Our words can kill, our words can commit murder however insignificant we might deem they are.
When I was about 12 or 13 I remember noticing that I had thinner hair than the average boy and this caused my scalp to show under hard lighting conditions. I remember while growing up this stirred an insecurity in me and my constant concern has always been to try my best to comb my hair in a way that would compliment and not reveal its thinness. But however much you try to hide something, when it’s visible, it’s visible. And you can try to hide it from yourself by not looking into the mirror much and wish somehow that people wouldn’t notice it or at least point it out but fact of the matter is you’ll always encounter people who like to point flaws out or even worse, make fun of your flaws. But if this ever taught me anything over the years, it’s that just like I don’t like my flaws being put under the spotlight, I should expect the same from people. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would like their flaws to be the topic of the conversation and I’m sure that when someone goes all Christopher Columbus on your flaws you’re probably like: “No shit Sherlock! Thanks for telling me my scalp is showing, I hadn’t noticed before! Hey let me go to the drugstore just around the corner and get these magic hair sprouting pills and come back, I’ll only be 5 min!”. And when you spend 2 hours of your time going like crazy through your wardrobe to find the one piece of clothing that will humbly enough do its best to cover how fat you really are, the last thing you want to hear from someone after “Hi, how are you?” is “Have you put on weight?” or “Good God! What have you been eating?”. So being the insecure flawed person that I am fortunately taught me to be considerate towards people’s feelings and “do unto them what I would have them do unto me” (Luke 6:31). It taught me to try my best to build people up instead of tearing them down with my so called “I’m only saying this for your own benefit” attempts. It saddens me how much even parents destroy their own children by “wanting them to be better for their own good”.
Words can kill, whether you’re constantly beating someone down verbally or simply calling them a drama queen (and for that I apologize to everyone whose feelings I have ever ridiculed). Hurt people will always hurt people unless we decide to break the cycle by turning the other cheek when offended and promoting love by treating others the way we would want them to treat us, which is always the way to go.
Finally I will leave you with this song on the power of the tongue. (You can find the lyrics here).