All my life, I have despised the common saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I have always revised the second clause to “but words may break my spirit.” While I try not to let what people say hurt me, I am not always completely successful. I often work my way through the hurt, but that is not the same.
Tia Bach wrote this thoughtful post about how people will say anything. She mentioned several hurtful things said about her eldest daughter; it made me so angry to read her post. I know how sensitive preteen girls can be. When I turned 13, I transformed from a skinny, petite little girl to a “plump” teenager. Suddenly, I was no longer being called a cute little thing, but “large-boned,” which I am not, or just “large.” I did not deal well with these comments, tumbling into anorexia nervosa.
Being painfully thin only changed the comments, so that now I was “gawky,” or”skeletal,” but not the hurt. I often joke now about being many pounds overweight, saying I recovered too well from anorexia, but in all honesty, I have not recovered. I am still far too susceptible to what is said about me.
Tia’s post finished with a question: should book reviews that attack the author, not the writing, be deleted? My visceral reaction was yes, but then I remembered my aunt, a consummate Southern belle, who ignored hateful comments, saying it made the person saying the comments look bad, not her.
Writing proves the power of words. While one should not avoid telling the truth about a piece of work, shouldn’t one point out any deficiencies without loaded, invested words? In college, I received a critique while standing on a stage in front of about 300 people. I felt I was being beaten in public. Although the person giving the critique did not attack me personally, neither did he offer any constructive criticism. After some time talking about the brilliance of his own work, he told me that my poem was a classic example of haiku gone wrong; if the rest of my work was like that example, I should throw it all out and quit.
That critique from twenty years ago made me far too sensitive; I have only come out of the closet within the last year to have my work critiqued. With the advantage of life lived between now and then, I know the critique said far more about him than it did me. I realize there was a lot wrong with my poem, but I needed guidance, not grandstanding about how his work was much better.
I choose my words more carefully since the experience of being called names and told to quit writing. I know the weight and depth of words. To me, hurtful words are far worse than common profanity. Although I wasn’t thrilled when my children said profane words, I came out full force against “stupid, idiot, fat,” and the like. My standards were tested by my inventive children, but I held firm. I never taught them words could not hurt them, either.