Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
You probably recognize this childhood rhyme, but is it true?
Social media posts, letters to the editor and rants to American newspapers increasingly spew angry and hateful words. In the spirit of supposedly expressing opinions and being helpful, writers name-call, judge from afar and are just plain mean. The words are cringeworthy, yet the writer somehow believes they are acceptable. Are we crossing a line?
The words we use can either build others up or tear them down. Is our society so angry and insecure that we need to tear others down to feel good about ourselves? Can we discuss an issue without verbally attacking someone?
In 2014, pop artist Taylor Swift took things to a whole new level. Responding to the hateful things people say about her, she wrote Shake it Off - and it skyrocketed to the top of the charts.
In an interview, Swift told Rolling Stone magazine the meaning behind the song.
"I've had every part of my life dissected — my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music. When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off."
Shake it Off has become an anthem for millions striving to shake off haters, players and fakers in their lives.
There's another childhood saying, too: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.” Either we have forgotten the saying’s wisdom or a whole generation apparently never learned it.
In Let it be Christmas, Alan Jackson sings:
“Let anger and fear and hate disappear. Let there be love that lasts through the year.”
We all have hearts and minds. Some hearts harden over time and are a little rough around the edges, while other hearts are broken and in despair.
So, what would happen if we remember that the words we speak and write have power? Communication has power to incite anger, discourage and create distrust among people. It can also encourage, give hope, affirm and bring out the best in people.
Our words matter. If we intentionally give life through our words and actions, can it make a difference?