How Words Hurt

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"How Words Hurt"
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It is interesting to note that one of the highest leading causes of death in many countries is suicide. The strange thing is that in so many of these cases, it is a direct result of 'merely' verbal bullying. This seems like an incredible development until you consider the way words can harm and demean us. The old refrain that words can never hurt as much as sticks and stones was clearly outdated. Words can hurt us in the most profound and lasting ways. They influence the way we look at the world and act as the primary means of communication between people. When words are used as weapons, the victim is attacked in a very real way. For example, words can be used to invalidate a person's most basic values and identity. The case of Sladjana Vidovic in 2010 where her name and perhaps racial identity were mocked is a dramatic reminder of exactly how much damage words can cause. Even at her own funeral, her tormentors ridiculed her appearance with cruel taunts. Any decent human being will understand the additional anguish that this must have caused her parents. The final outrage is that the perpetrators of such verbal bullying received virtually no punishment for their misdemeanor.

Indeed, such acts are a direct result of our modern world's lack of acknowledgment of the value of courtesy. Such values are not outdated for they are a direct attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of words. Without common courtesy, our mouths become naked weapons liable to dispense lasting hurt even when we have no such intention. It is unfortunate that such practices are considered as outdated today. Nowadays, strangers regularly and mercilessly insult one another in the relative anonymity of the internet. There was even an incident in 2010 where a man had declared online his intention to commit suicide. While many had tried to dissuade him from the irreversible act, others goaded him to carry on his plan. Some even insulted him. He killed himself shortly after, but one must wonder if it was the additional hurt from the insults that had pushed him over the edge into the abyss.

Even those who are still alive carry the burden of harmful words that were once said to them. The degree to which we believe the words and the person saying them is the degree to which those words hurt. It is no coincidence that the most hurtful words are often spoken to us from the mouth of our loved ones. Children are particularly vulnerable to the words of their parents. The sad part is that quite often, the parents have the best of intentions but fail in the way they communicate their desires. Instead of encouraging a child who has failed in some task, some parents mock, chide and verbally abuse their children in the hopes that such negative reinforcement will "teach" the child not to repeat such failure. This failure in effective parenting in turn is often caused by the parents' own upbringing where they believe that such harmful words are the norm. In that sense, words can bring on hurt that can span generations due to their cyclic nature.

At the same time, the children themselves undergo another kind of cycle. Some rebel and continue the verbal battles with their parents. Others withdraw into themselves. Yet, despite these differences, such receivers of hurtful words have a low sense of self-confidence deep inside. The parents' or caretakers' recriminations become self-fulfilling prophecy because the children believe them. They become unmotivated because they are told that they are foolish, careless, of the wrong gender or any other number of supposedly negative traits. The situation seldom improves by much when the children grow up. Teenagers are at the mercy of peer pressure and the often harshly articulated opinions of their peers. When they become adults, the words spoken to them so long ago still resound in the subconscious of their mind even when the speakers are no longer present. The victim of the harshly spoken word is a strange one that continuously inflicts the same pain over and over again on himself or herself. What is internalized is remembered and when new "word hurt" is received, the tired mind inexplicably searches for all similar instances and parade them one by one in the quiet hours of the night. How strange it is that we so readily remember recriminations against us and not internalize the encouragements given to us on those relatively rare moments when our fellow humans choose to be humane.

Such are the ways that words hurt our mind. While our physical wounds often heal, our minds seem to delight in torturing itself with past slights and insults. There is a reason why the "helping professions" are in such a great demand now. All manner of psychological therapy are thriving and the industry itself as a whole is growing fast. All the same, there seems to be an inadequate supply of them to combat the collective result of words. Counseling services and medication alike are used to change our unhealthy mindsets that are often directly caused by words.

By now, the destructive potential of words should be apparent to anyone who can reason. Indeed, it is almost impossible to be a human being without feeling the sting of the verbal punch from time to time. Yet, if words can hurt, they also have the capacity to heal and bring joy to everyone. Every word is like a prayer for either good or ill. It is up to the individual to use them with due wisdom and restraint...

More about this author: Rahman Majere

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