Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sticks and Stones

A writer I follow and respect recently had some spiteful words hurled at her like a clump of mud. She washed it off as best she could but some bits dried and stuck and took more effort to scratch off. I suspect a dull residue remains that will take even longer to fully remove.

Last week I wrote about a particularly mean comment I received. The malice in those words lied in wait, crouched and still, ready to pounce on me the minute I haplessly wandered to the comment section below my post. The attack left me stunned, dizzy and seeing stars. I shook it off and moved on, refusing to give in to the almost seductive power those words had to create doubt and insecurity.

I don’t know why people choose to hurt. I imagine it originates from a need to feel powerful. I do know that few things are more powerful than words, especially when they’re strategically constructed and launched from behind the barricade of a computer screen and the shield of anonymity.

I can’t stop a person from being hurtful if that’s their intent. But I can make sure, to the best of my parental ability, that neither of my children (who are currently polishing off the last of the many, many groceries I bought only yesterday) follow suit.

I taught my sons, from the moment they blew their first raspberry, that name-calling is bad; and they get it. But as teenagers they will joke around, tossing about unkind and useless words like a casual game of catch, not realizing the strength of their arms or the faults in their aim. They don’t understand that somewhere an innocent window is about to get smashed. They don’t grasp the potential damage of their wordplay, especially when it involves social media, where the bulk of their "words" consist of a mere three letters ...  at most ... and no vowels! 

Words can be weapons, permanent in their destruction. But they are not arrows that simply fall dead on the ground if a target is not lined up in front of them like a row of tin cans. Cruel words and ridicule are heat-seeking missiles that tirelessly search out a live, beating heart until they zero in on one. That’s their programmed purpose, their mission, from the moment they are carelessly or carefully launched … online, out in the great wide open, or even quietly in our heads.

Words are a responsibility. Handle with care. Exercise with caution.

And above all, be kind.