Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but …

Wikipedia says the English phrase Sticks and Stones has been around a long time. It was first used by A.W. Kinglake (in 1830); John Ollivier (in 1844); and Mrs. G. Cupples (in 1872 as advice for children). Grammatically, it’s an irreversible binomial. Who knew? The longer expression – ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me’ – is reported to have appeared in the Christian Recorder of March 1862. That’s a publication by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Note that all these recorded uses of the idiom – for whatever purpose – predated the Civil War. With that in mind, it’s clear to me that such positive and hopeful statements are dreadfully wrong.

Words can incite physical harm to the point of death, and other terrible outcomes. They can make people lose employment, have poor or no uneducation, be evicted from homes,  be shunned by their community, have no chance for improvement, and worst of all, lose hope.

Hate groups are on the rise too. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center,  the KKK has a new, very secretive offspring – The Brotherhood of Klans – started in 1996 by a long-time ‘traditional’ Klan member, with a new dream. BOK is exceptionally secretive, unlike the showy large groups in white robes of yesteryear, offering scant details of its actions online and conducting serious background checks of prospective members. “Its members often eschew white robes and hoods for paramilitary garb, and its leadership networks extensively with non-Klan white supremacists, most notably racist skinheads and outlaw bikers, as well as with other Klan outfits, especially those based in the Deep South.”

According to the UN Refugees Org, ‘By the end of 2021, 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. This includes: 27.1 Million refugees.’

In some Latin American countries, hurricanes, lack of work, brutality against women, drug lords, lack of police, or corruption cause many families to seek refuge in neighboring states, or North America. International Rescue Committee says that Venezuela is the leader in violent  crime, but it greatly influences people in neighboring states. And El Salvador, where the protest picture was taken, has the highest rate of Femicide (ludicrous considering the name of the country)!

The tongue is like a weapon wielded to hurt people. It can’t be tamed easily. The Bible confirms this. For example, Chap. 3 of the Gospel of James includes this text: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so.”

Words have great power. Yes, they can be used to harm others, but also to help them. I’m fascinated with words. From experience, I know language study  can become an obsession – linguistics. Old philosophers tend to think every serious ‘discussion’, whether written or spoken, should begin with ‘Let’s define our terms’. What do such-and-such words mean? Confucius called this Rectification of Names. He thought society and community require that “things in actual fact should be made to accord with the implications attached to them by names”. He was appalled by the war-lords who lived to dominate others and kill their opponents. He wanted every person, from the highest ruler to the lowest  peasant, to live an ‘ordered’ life, practicing what she or he ought to be. His end in view was harmony with nature and with each other. Strive to be the example for what your name describes.

I wouldn’t call Confucian thinking a religion, but he thought our ancestors are models, who should be worshipped  by yearly celebrations. His moral code has been called ‘The Silver Rule’ – i.e., “Don’t do to others what you would not want done to you”.

We have a natural inclination to look at the negative side of life, and prefer bad news more than good (so long as it’s about others). People in the Press all know this. Look at any summary of happenings for the day, the week, the month or the year. You won’t find happy trends, enjoyment or random acts of kindness. Not that they don’t happen; they just aren’t newsworthy. Of course people try to have fun, find amusement, or lift their spirits, by taking a break from work, taking in a show, visiting friends, or traveling. Everybody likes a good time. It’s amusing that people feel obligated to say ‘Have a good time!’ to a friend going out for fun, who in turn may feel almost guilty if the command isn’t fulfilled!

But in times of uncertainty, worry and fear of danger – especially the latter – it’s hard to think of a good time. Nature has programmed us to be on the alert. That’s increasingly our situation today. The polarization of beliefs and desires in our nation means danger is all around. I posted a blog about our thirst for bad news 6 months back.

Gang wars have been increasing in many places – not only in Chicago and New York, but other countries as well. This picture from the London Mirror was taken in China, where 50 schoolboys (all under 18) were in a gang fight. As minors, the account says, they probably won’t be prosecuted.


Various mental illnesses have increased since the Covid Pandemic began. People’s response to danger differs; it’s not just fight or flight. Instead of doing  something healthy, like gardening, writing, walking in a park, learning to play guitar, people often harm themselves. OCD, Anorexia Nervosa, avoiding people, self burning or cutting are more and more widespread and intense. Last week I watched a documentary (105 mins) about cutting called Wildcat, which shows how far PTSD may push someone to seek help – in this case, from England to the Peruvian jungle. The therapeutic love between an ex-soldier and an abandoned baby Ocelot  is touching. I recommend it.

One version of sticks and stones is the way that insecure or pessimistic people treat themselves. I may be such a person. Knowing from experience how easy it is to put my foot in my mouth – especially lately with memory lapses during conversations – I think ‘Watch out! What’s said can’t be unsaid.’ So I often feel uncomfortable in social settings. This may be narcissim disguised as fear of imperfection. In extreme cases, it even has a name – Atelophobia. Whatever it is, it’s not a right and proper character trait or way to live. It suggests a lack of spiritual growth. ‘Self, You should be sociable and helpful to others. Just do it!’

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