Home > Life Learning > Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…

Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words will never…
But words will…
But words…
But words.

You’re probably famailiar with this children’s nursery rhyme and the lesson it strives to impart.

But you also know the reality.

“Words will never hurt me.”



Nearly a year ago, I published my first book, The Accident:  A Bike, A Truck, and A Train.  After reading the book, some people, people who knew me, commented to me, “I didn’t know you were so accident-prone.”

Hmm, I’d never thought of myself as “accident-prone.”


As soon as someone says something to you about yourself, as soon as they affix a word, a label, a name, to you, your brain begins an immediate process of determining whether or not it agrees with the way in which you’ve been defined.  As soon as I heard the words “accident-prone” affixed to me, my mind reviewed every accident I’d ever been involved in to determine whether or not I was “accident-prone.”  My brain concluded, “Maybe I am accident-prone.”

Similarly, if a person were to approach you and say, “You are a Republican,” then your mind would process what you know about Republicans, what you believe, and arrive at a determination as to whether or not this label was true.  The same would hold true if someone were to say to you, “You are a Democrat.”  Or a Christian or a Buddhist.  Or conservative or liberal.

Or smart or stupid.  Proactive or reactive.  Aggressive or passive.  And so on and so on.

Depending on the label, depending on the words used by the other person, you might brush it off as irrelevant, it might make you mad (fighting mad), or you might let their words define you.

In some cases, the person- (due to their authority over you as parent, boss, or teacher or due to their close emotional proximity to you such as spouse, close friend, or sibling) will have enough power or influence over you that their words will override the conclusions of your own mind.  Even though you don’t see the words they are using as the definition of yourself, you begin to think, because of who they are in your life, “That person might be right.”


There’s another thing about words.  They seem to be uttered with a substance stickier than glue.

I’ve been called a lot of things- a lot of things- by a lot of people.  Some of them were true, some were not.

Here’s a question:  which ones do you think I remember more?  Which words have I brooded over more?  The good or the bad?  The uplifting or the derogatory?


Not all words, not all labels, are bad.  They enable us to define who we are, to identify ourselves to others, to organize, to setup, to achieve.

Imagine a football team if no one was told what position to play- if the individuals had not been labeled as quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or lineman.  Who’s going to hike the ball or call the plays?

What does everyone want to know when the boss is on vacation?  Who’s in charge?

Labels, words, can help.


And then labels and words can wreak utter havoc.  If this person says this about me, if I believe their words, their label, about me to be true, then…


Then I must have an attitude or not be smart or be an ingrate or stubborn or defensive or difficult or worthless or obnoxious.

If we believe and accept the labels and the words that are affixed to us then the attitude intensifies, the homework is left undone, we lock into our way, we challenge everything, and why bother trying if we don’t matter.

So we should stay away from negative words, right?  Isn’t that what we hear people tell us, “If you don’t have anything good or nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”


A person once told me, “Anytime anyone says anything negative towards me I take it as a personal challenge.  Their negative words become motivation for me to prove that person wrong.  But, if someone compliments me or tells me I do something really well, then I feel an enormous pressure to live up to that person’s words.”

So good words can be bad as well?


I went to another person and sought a deciding opinion.  One person says negative words challenge them and positive words shackle them.  Another says negative words destroy them while positive words uplift them.  Who is right?  Since this was the third person I’d talked to I figured, I asumed, that he’d be on one side or the other and he would solve the question.

He thought for a moment and then he said, “I would prefer that people not talk to me at all.”

Yeah, somehow, I don’t think that’s a solution to the power of words.


Should I believe all the negative things that people say to me?  Should I allow them sway and power over who I am?


Should I believe all the good things people say about me?  Should I allow them to guide me?


I am responsible for figuring out who I am.  I am responsible for defining who I am.  Just as you are.  A person’s words might point something out to me, challenge me, inspire me, guide me, inform me, criticize me, condemn me, but they do not define me.  The words of others, the words of friends and parents and bosses and teachers and spouses, might help me and they might hurt me, but they do not define me and they do not define you.

The power of words.

Maybe there is truth in the children’s rhyme after all.

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