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Words Will Never Hurt Me

We need to think about the things we say.

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4


To consider how our words can wound, even if we don't mean them to. 

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


1. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ I wonder how many of you have been told this – once or many times.

It is an English-language children's rhyme, originally from the nineteenth century, and was meant to be a way of persuading a child who was a victim of name-calling to try and ignore what had been said, walk away and remain calm and good-natured rather than retaliate in any other way.

It got me thinking, though, about whether or not the second part of the rhyme is true. It says, ’but words will never hurt me’. I am not sure about that. Are you?

2. Think about the best thing that anyone has ever said to you. Can you recall it easily?

Now think of the worst thing anyone has ever said.

Which was the easiest to recall? It wouldn't surprise me if it was the latter – the words did hurt, the words wounded you.

It is entirely possible the words that were said fed in to or developed something in you which you didn't really like about yourself. Having someone say them could easily have added to your internal monologue and confirmed the worst things you thought about yourself.

3. Our words carry enormous weight. They can stay with someone for years and mean that they feel horrible about themselves or their self-esteem is damaged.

Words are a little bit like dropping a glass. You cannot stop it once you've dropped it, you can't do much about the mess that occurs afterwards. The best you might be able to do is clean up the broken pieces, but you can never put it back together again.

4. I wonder if you've ever really considered how your words might hurt or damage someone, even if you didn't mean them to. Often what we think is fun can be a source of hurt for someone else. The way we respond to someone when we are tired, hungry or upset might have a greater impact on them than we imagine.

Put yourself in the shoes of a certain famous literary character for a second. Do you remember the section in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Malfoy calls Hermione a mudblood?

Malfoy's words were chosen on purpose, to cause as much damage as possible to the person who was on the receiving end. We know what was said was wrong and unacceptable because of other people's reactions to it, notably Ron’s.

If you're saying something to someone face to face, sometimes it's easy to gauge how he or she feels about that comment, but what if you're saying something and the person doesn’t really react? Maybe he or she is putting a brave face on it or maybe you think you're just ‘having a laugh’, but the person you are saying it to doesn’t realize you didn’t meant it and ends up taking those words to heart and worrying about them.

5. The same goes for text messages, Snapchat, e-mails, Facebook and Twitter, except in those cases you can't necessarily see the person. You don't know if the text you sent has caused offence or the comment you made about a photo has really upset someone because you cannot see the person’s reaction. It is so easy to write something and send it partly because of the fact that you are not face to face with the person you’ve sent it to.

6. So, here is a little tip (and this goes for adults as well), before you say what's going through your head or send an e-mail, text or comment, think about it or have a look back at it and ask yourself a couple of questions.

– Is it kind?

– Would I want to receive that?

Put yourself on the receiving end. Will it actually do more harm than good? Also, is it necessary?

If the answer to both of the above questions is ‘Yes’, then go ahead – positive affirmations and words are also really powerful, but in a good way. If the answer to both of them is ‘No’, then don't say or send it – that's obvious. If the answer to one of them is ‘No’, then you need to have a serious think about it. 

Time for reflection

So, we are now more aware that we need to take some time and step back. It is so easy to say something, do something in the heat of the moment or with little thought that then takes time to recover from.

Just take a breath and consider those two questions – ‘Is it kind?’, ‘Would I want to receive that?’ – and you might just save yourself and others a lot of heartache.

Maybe the saying should be, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will often hurt me’.

Publication date: April 2015   (Vol.17 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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