Not Just Sticks and Stones Hurt

Joanie had a hate/love relationship with school. She loved learning addiction, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Her beloved mathematics were her toys, puzzles to be solved, and in the solving, what joy! She enjoyed winning the spelling contests, being the last one standing in the front of the class, and savoring the  knowledge that she would sit with Mrs. Hawkins, her lovely teacher, and eat ice cream with her. Because there was so little money at home, ice cream was a real treat!

But, school also meant hateful words and taunts that made Joanie feel bad and ashamed of her family. When she complained to her mother, Mama would say, “Remember, Joanie, dear heart, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you. So don’t let their words bother you.”

Joanie really tried to do what Mama said and just ignore the words!! But, the more the other children made fun of her for wearing the same two dresses and having holes in my socks and cardboard in my shoes, she realized that Mama was very, very WRONG!

Yes, sticks and stones hurt and result in visible scars on your body, and those scars will eventually heal. But the barbed brickles, unkind and bitter criticisms that break one’s already brittle spirit, leave invisible scars on people’s hearts and minds that are slow to heal, if they ever do. Individuals are left with low self-esteem, lack of a belief in the goodness of people, a sense that the whole world is against them, and totally friendless. So barbed brickles not only hurt, they can destroy our natural ebullience and wonder, leading to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks that take years to overcome.

Joanie decided when she was 12 years old to never tell her children that old saying, for she did not want them to think that ugly words were alright to use. Joanie taught them, instead, to treat people the way they wanted to be treated, and to use words that lift people up, not words that tear people down. She told them to never join the crowd in teasing, taunting, or mocking others, even if that decision makes them outsiders and subject to their own barbed brickles.

As a teacher today, Joanie tends to gravitate toward the children who become the targets of ugliness and painful interactions. She feels an affinity with them, and she shares her story with them, as a way of letting them know the reality of her favorite saying, “Success is the best revenge, for success comes from God.”

August Writing Prompt is Barbed Brickles.

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