Words matter…

I remember the childhood rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I wish that were true…

Unfortunately, far too many of us have had experiences with name-calling in one of its many forms…and studies bear out the long-term impact that bullying can have on everyone involved.

When one is a child, bullying can ensure that one is seen as somehow “less than”…pushed to an outer circle. Sometimes the bullying that takes place is clear and undeniable, but sometimes it’s far more subtle, with words that poke fun–and can be (and are) easily dismissed as kids “just having fun.” But it’s not fun to the one experiencing it.

Nor is it good for the one doing the bullying. They never learn how to interact appropriately with their peers, but learn that force (whether physical or verbal) is the way for them to get what they want.

Young people who are struggling to find their own identity struggle often with words used to identify them…and sometimes believe they have no choice but to disappear.

Even into adulthood words matter.

Words create the environment we grow into…and that’s why we’ve come to recognize that words that were common years ago are no longer acceptable–words such as the “n” word or “retard” (which I remember hearing as a common insult when I was young). We’re slowly coming to understand that words that were commonly used to describe individuals whose sexual or gender identity are different from our own have consequences.

But somehow it still seems acceptable to many to shame girls/women…to see us only as sexual objects…to ignore the fact that we are individuals with desires and talents like men…to suggest in many ways that we ought to be kept barefoot and pregnant…that men ought to make all decisions for us (including decisions about our own bodies)…

Those words have helped create a culture where a young man who viciously raped an unconscious woman gets away with a slap on the wrist because “she asked for it because she was so drunk” and because he is an athletic swimmer.

Those words have helped create a culture in which a once-honored comedian found it acceptable to drug women he wanted to have sex with…and then claim it was consensual.

Those words have helped create a culture where some well-known athletes have boasted about the number of women they have had sex with.

Those words have helped create a culture in which one of the candidates for the highest office in our land feels no shame in boasting about groping and kissing women against their will…and where others who hold office see nothing wrong with what he has said.

For too many years we have been quiet, believing (or at least hoping to believe) that “words will never hurt me.”

No more.

Words have consequences. Words have power. And it’s time that we acted in ways that show we believe it.

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