"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This taunt made the rounds more than 50 years ago, and, I suppose, even before that. Even as a child, I understood the foolishness of the saying because I knew that words did hurt. Sometimes they hurt far more than any sticks and stones.
Perhaps it is because I am a writer that I recognize and respect the power of words. Words hold the power to uplift and to inspire. They also hold the power to wound and to inflict pain. How we use them is what makes the difference.
Let me share an experience with you. It happened nearly 40 years ago, but the memory remains with me to this day. My husband and I were married in a Mormon temple. Following the wedding breakfast (a Mormon tradition), we returned to the house to rest before the picture-taking and reception that evening. Larry and I retreated to a room where I turned to him, flushed and happy and excited.
He stared at me and said, "My mother said you have a zit on your face and wants you to get rid of it." I looked at my relfection in the mirror. Sure enough, there was a tiny zit on my left cheek. Much of my pleasure and happiness in the day evaporated. I had believed I was beautiful for our wedding day, only to discover that I was not.
I took care of the offending pimple the best I could. I normally wore little makeup and spent the afternoon trying to cover up the resulting red spot. My amateurish efforts left me looking like a sad clown. I told myself that it was foolish to allow the words of another to ruin the day and pasted a smile on my face for the evening's activity.
I have long since let go of the hurt of those words, but the memory of the feelings they produced remains with me. That memory reminds me to be careful with my words. Do I always succeed? No. Too frequently I trample upon the feelings of others with thoughtless and unkind remarks, flippant humor, and even sarcasm.
The Savior, the ultimate example in all things, had a kind word for everyone, from children to a prostitute, from the people He taught to His disciples. Even the thief upon the cross flanking Him received solace and succor from the Lord when He anguished in pain.
So, for today (and again), I am grateful for the Savior's example.