‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’.
I remember hearing these words uttered throughout my primary school years as one child responded to [a hurtful comment] said to him or her by another child. Perhaps this little rhyme itself was a defence mechanism against the painful truth that words really do have the power to hurt and hurt very deeply.
Some researchers claim that women speak up to 20,000 words per day as compared to 7,000 for men. What is important for our discourse is not who speaks more, but the fact that so many words are spoken per day in the first place. As I was writing, I remembered doing permutations and combinations in Mathematics. As shocked as I was that I recalled those details, bear in mind I studied these topics nearly two decades ago, so I should not be quoted for scientific reference. These mathematical rules look at the different ways in which a set number of things can be ordered or arranged. [I am therefore astounded] at the potential we have, not at our finger-tips, but at our tongue-tips to create or to destroy.
In the Bible, Proverbs 18:21, states “The power of life and death is in the tongue”. What does this mean? What we say to others and just as importantly, what we say to ourselves has the power to create life for us or to destroy our destinies.
Consider two hypothetical children. ‘Child A’ comes from a poor family, where money is short and she or he cannot get all the toys their little heart’s desire. However, in that home there is laughter and the child feels loved and appreciated. There is a clear set of rules and norms and the little one knows precisely what is expected of him or her. Each day that child is reminded of the love of parents and reassured that whatever he or she sets out to achieve is within reach. What do we think will become of such a child? My supposition is that despite setbacks and challenges, there is within [that child] a deep resolve to achieve great heights built on the foundation of what their parents TOLD them.
Contrast this with ‘Child B’ who has much more at his or her disposal. This child barely sees his or her parents who are often at meetings trying to get more to give the child more. A child like this is hesitant to try and is not hopeful of achieving much, despite having much. He or she tends to be reserved or overly extravagant in an effort to get attention. This type coasts through life not believing in the great potential resident within his or her bosom, and the world is deprived of something wonderful.
It is what we say to children more so than what we give them, that dictates their achievements in life. Children, however, are not the only ones affected by the spoken word. I clearly recall watching a colleague ‘shrink’ after each insulting word uttered by a manager for an error he had made. I felt his confidence go down the slide of a playground and plummet into the sandpit below and I was amazed that he managed to stand there and take it all in. More than likely, I would have burst into tears and leave, never to return! So many wives and husbands are ripped to shreds by the words of angry, insecure spouses and they remain in verbally abusive relationships believing the worst about themselves. Surely there must be a better way.
There has been a move within the past few decades to use positive affirmations. An affirmation, in simple terms, is a statement or proposition that is declared to be true; they are positive statements that describe a desired situation or goal. The mind is not a fixed entity and so it can be programmed. The reason affirmations can work is that the mind believes what is being said, and after that belief takes root, [certain] actions tend to follow. An example of a positive affirmation is – I am healthy and happy. Affirmations should not be confused with unrealistic statements. An individual who is morbidly obese really should not stand in the mirror and repeat – I am slim and fit. Perhaps a better affirmation would be – I have the means to reach my goal weight.
The cure for AIDS and cancer, the end of food scarcity and world hunger are [all] within our grasp if we affirm our children from the time they are tots. Along with affirming them, we [must] guide them. We clearly set out what is expected, what will be tolerated and what is unacceptable. It is not right to blame a child (or adult for that matter) for transgressing a law, rule or edict of which the individual was never aware. Should a child who lives in a household where swear words are the norm be lashed for swearing when he or she enters formal schooling? Perhaps a better course of action is to point out to the child that those words are not to be said in general, and suggest other ways of self-expression.
As I have aged, I am realising more and more that human beings are recognising more and more, that what was written in the Bible eons ago was right. In Matthew 17:20 we are told that if we have enough faith we can SPEAK to mountains and they can be moved. Isn’t that exciting? I am encouraged by that prospect and so if we watch our words we can watch our world change for the better.
(Renee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:reneestboyce@gmail)