Words are Sticks and Stones

Let’s compare two different sayings about speech. First, the ever popular, Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. And then this, lesser known one: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” That last one is from Solomon’s Proverbs. All the Proverbs are pretty good. You should read them, like now. Seriously. Stop wasting your time reading my blog, find a copy of Solomon’s Proverbs, and read them. And then come back if you want to.

All my life, I’ve been someone who is hurt by words. I’m hurt by words even when people have no intention of hurting me with words. And for a long time, I thought that made me weak. I never had a broken bone from either sticks or stones, but words always hurt me. People would always tell me that I should stop caring what other people thought about me, as if it was a disease. And if I just took the cure of not caring, I would become a healthier person.

And so I learned how to use sarcasm. People were sarcastic with me, and I was sarcastic back because I thought that was what was expected of me. Sarcasm drifted into all of my relationships. My romantic relationships, my relationship with my brother, my relationships with my parents, my friends, my acquaintances. But I wasn’t all that good at sarcasm. If sarcasm was an actual language (like some people say it is), I was nowhere near fluent so a lot of times I would just give up and be sincere with people. And that’s where you start to get into trouble. Because when you are sincere with people, human nature is to start expecting people to be sincere with you. (My psych professor tells me that is why Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud stopped being friends – Jung was mad that Freud wouldn’t open up to him.)

The verse from Proverbs is always reentering my life. I think about it a lot. Because the truth is that words hurt. And they hurt everyone. Not just me. It took me a long time to figure that out because people don’t like showing that they are hurt by words, but they are. I think the first relationship where I eradicated sarcasm fully was with my brother. It took time, and it was hard at times, but my brother and I hardly ever are sarcastic with each other now, and it’s brought us really close. It’s amazing how deep a relationship can go when you are honest about how much you care about each other and what you like and dislike about each other without the veil of sarcasm.

The horrible thing about sarcasm is that once you start, you think it’s a way of life, that it’s natural. And so even when you are conscious about it, it pops up every once in a while and stabs people you care about. I stab my parents with sarcasm all the time. And I hate that.

A very close friend and I communicate almost solely through sarcasm. And it’s horrible because it escalates and escalates until one of us says something that is really hurtful, and then it feels like we may not be able to talk to each other anymore. I recently admitted to her that I can’t communicate in that way anymore, that it hurts me and that I know it hurts her. And it was hard because I felt like I was being weak. But it seems silly to choose to live in the range of swords when you can be in a peaceful meadow instead.

I know it’s going to be tempting to say something sarcastic in response to this post. But I challenge you to actually think about it, and to respond sincerely.