Friday, July 19, 2013

Sticks and Stones

Here’s a shocker: I’m going to politely disagree with a common saying. I was told over and over as a child, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This statement was something I’d tell people, usually bullies, who would make fun me. Thinking back, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to say to a kid bigger than me who was prone to violence because he’d take it as a suggestion and then go searching for sticks and / or stones.

I went to a swimming pool recently—the kind built for families with all sorts of pools. I took a picture of the warning sign at the edge of the kiddie pool. (It’s the picture at the start of this blog.) It caught me as really odd because it seemed obvious. If anything, it wasn’t a helpful warning and in the end, it may me wonder what kind of person felt the need to state something so moronic.

But then this got me thinking, (an occupational hazard of being a writer) this warning was set into the ground. Even if the owners were to remove it, whenever I think of that pool I’ll think of that warning.

It’s not unlike many people I’ve met in my life. My lingering impressions of them often are based on either something they did or said—usually a singular event. It’s not fair to them, because there is much more to the person than that, yet that’s what sticks.

One of my bosses remembered my direct reports by actions they took or things they said. For example, if I was talking to my boss about Timmy (not really the employee’s name), my boss would say, “He’s the one that parked in the non-employee parking lot, right?” It happened one time, years before, and Timmy never did it again, but that is how he was remembered by my boss.

I tend to say some pretty off-the-cuff things at times that I’m sure make lasting impressions on people. Case in point: at a family gathering, we noted how my sweet niece had long, beautiful brown hair. I told her, “When I was your age, and a little girl, I had hair just like that.” She looks up at me, her uncle, and says, “Um, okay.” (And no, I didn’t have a sex change operation in my life—I was just being silly.)

One bit of marriage advice I’ve been old over the years is never to say anything to my wife in anger that was mean and hurtful. And it’s true. There are certain things people say that can’t be taken back—even if they were really sorry they said it in the heat of the moment.

Don’t believe me? Watch almost any TV show that deals with criminal trials. It’s often what people say, sometimes recorded on audio or video, that makes the difference in a case.

I once witnessed a truck run a red light and crash into a smaller car. (That’s another blog in and of itself!) I was the first person on the scene. I spoke to the man who ran the light, and he was shaken up. He said to me, “Man, I can’t believe I ran that red light.”

Months later, I was summoned to testify in the case. Imagine my surprise when the man plead not guilty. I took the witness stand and the lawyer asked me all sorts of questions including, “Did he say anything to you?” When I answered with what he told me, I thought for sure I saw the defense attorney slump his shoulders in defeat.

In my life, people have said really mean and cruel things to me. I’m not talking about actions that can be misconstrued. I mean words that were said (most certainly in anger) that will leave an impression of that person for a long time. And it’s sad, really.

So, if I may be so bold, I’m going to rewrite the famous saying I noted earlier. How about this: “Stick and stone may break my bones temporarily, but words can EVER hurt me.”  

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