Words don’t break bones
Extend any metaphor too far and it breaks down, and overloading any pithy saying is putting too much straw on a camel’s back.
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
This is a quick-and-pithy staying with one purpose and one purpose only – to remind a child who is still developing thick skin and self-control that they must avoid responding to words with violence. The saying is a restraint against unnecessarily and dangerously escalating a situation.
It’s absolutely true that words will never break your bones; that dramatic image is very deliberate. Words can feel like getting slapped, stabbed, cut, or burned, but one can become distracted from that emotional pain in a moment by a more pressing matter.
But you don’t just forget a broken bone. Even if adrenaline numbs the pain, the break impedes your ability to fight or flee, and once the situation is over the injury and its pain will stick with you for weeks at a minimum.
And if you rise to the provocation of painful words with physical violence, the possibility of getting a bone broken by real sticks and stones becomes far more likely.
You cannot deny this truth. You can reach around it to other truths, like the real psychological damage that comes from an extended campaign of harassment and slander, but ignoring the fact that words cannot break bones is myopic. Like a stargazer who studies the heavens to the point of tripping on a rock.
“Sticks and stones” is not, will never be, and was never intended to be a substitute for good parenting that gives a child emotional health, nor can it substitute for a safe environment free from campaigns of harassment.
No single pithy saying can carry that weight.
“Sticks and stones” is only a single tool in the vast workshop of parenting tools. It would be stupid to discard a hammer because it isn’t a saw, a vice, or a steady supply of food.
Perhaps generations of lazy parents kept hammering their harassed children with “Sticks and Stones” when they should have been using other tools to build them up and prepare them to deal with the real world. But generational mis-use of a hammer does not suddenly invalidate the real value of a hammer.
If you please, we can introduce a new tool; a partner to “Sticks and Stones” that does the work it cannot.
We can begin to tell children, “Never believe the criticism of someone whom you wouldn’t trust for advice.”
Seriously, what do these people want the idiom to say? “Words hurt worse than bone-breaking stones, so escalate every confrontation to physical violence”?
They themselves would judge anyone who did that as criminally insane.
“Words hurt worse than bone-breaking stones, so everyone in the world should be nice to me?”
Yeah, good luck finding utopia. There isn’t a single place in the world where people won’t talk shit to you. You’d need to be a mass-murdering tyrant before everyone around you is afraid to offend you, and even then people from other countries will mock you.