Flashback Friday, to some pictures I found a few years ago:
I ran across these images yesterday and their power made me stop in my tracks. They’re difficult to look at all on their own, and even more so when you realize what they depict. I debated posting them at all, then posting them with a cover image and trigger warning, but I think they’re too important to not face no matter what your relationship is to personal violence. I hope you stay with me to explore beyond scrolling past them.
The childhood saying goes something like this: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
It’s often dragged out to tell kids to ignore teasing and verbal bullying, and we hear it through the rest of life too. The message is very much that words have no power to affect you, only physical actions.
It’s a lie.
Words are extraordinarily powerful. They express hope, dreams, fears, hate. They are used to call people to action, and to put boundaries around what they do. They can heal our spirits and destroy our souls. Words are an inescapable part of our lives, especially in the age of social media. There are nearly none among us who cannot hear nor speak nor read nor write, and any one of those avenues brings words to and from us. Even inarticulate screams, groans, grunts, and laughs are their own language when words fail us – consider them another kind of word.
If you still struggle to think of words as power, as powerful as acts, tell me – what does it take to form a sentence? Is that not an act itself, and one that takes effort to form and to place into the world?
And when words are used against another person, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they can harm. They can harm just as much as raising your hand against someone. The only difference is that the cuts and bruises are not nearly so visible, the flinch may not be nearly so obvious. And the wounds and the scars may last longer for it, more so because the very act of not acknowledging them or of downplaying them can feel like hearing the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, a fork screeching across a plate. That shudder? That grimace? That recoil you just made? It’s just like that.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words are like an invisible punch to my gut.
That’s why these images are so powerful, because they translate those words into sound waves into the kinds of physical injuries that are so much easier to understand as “bad.” As a maker of words, it’s a reminder of what you can cause when you speak or write. As a hearer or reader of words, it’s a reminder that yes, the injury you have felt when words have come to you, even unintentionally or carelessly, is real. On each side, you have a choice to be careful in what you put out there and what you choose to let in, and you have a choice to break or to heal. It won’t be easy, but that’s why we’re here to work.