Sticks and stones

April 9th, 2014


This time of year always has me feeling very philosophical for reasons I can’t yet really identify. Perhaps it’s the seemingly endless number of critical analyses I have to read and write for most of my classes, or the promise of summer and freedom provocatively looming in the near future, or the constant reminder that the clock is ticking away on the remainder of my college career.


Or, it could be that I just get in weirdly philosophical moods sometimes because I’m a nerd.


Whatever the case, I’ve recently been finding myself critically analyzing a number of societal aspects that I’d never really given much thought to before.


Due to my Philosophy of the Body class (which I mentioned a few weeks ago in one of my columns), I’ve had the idea of social constructionism on the brain pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can’t seem to stop myself from applying it even to the most basic of cultural constructs.


One particular construct that I’ve been mentally picking down to the bone is the importance of language in our society – or rather, the immense power of words.


I’ve studied the origins of language in multiple classes throughout my high school and college careers, and even still to this day I have not been able to really wrap my mind around the beauty of communication.


I’m not just saying this because I’m a Communications major and I want people to think I’m profound; it’s just that I can’t even imagine the complexity of progression from prehistoric primates communicating via grunts to me sitting here writing this column.


Seriously, how did that happen? More importantly, when did words begin to hold such weight? That’s not a rhetorical question. I would love for someone to come up to me and explain how we as humans developed a communication system powerful enough to completely change each others’ lives.


Let me put it in a different perspective. Imagine you are back in middle school as a shy, awkward, pimply preteen with braces. Imagine one of your classmates comes up to you and calls you a “loser” or “freak.” Sadly, this is a much milder version of reality for millions of young kids today. I used the words “loser” and “freak” because I’m not allowed to publish vulgar language, but I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the more common insults for you to know what they are.


It amazes me that one four-letter word could change someone’s mood and even self-esteem in the blink of an eye. I’ll save the discussion about the horrors of bullying for another day, but the point I’m trying to make now is that words have transformed into incredibly potent symbols.


At some point in our lives, we’ve all childishly told someone that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Technically, this is true. But, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that a well-timed insult can hurt like a pile of bricks to the face.


So, is this saying really true? Words are nothing but symbols used to convey deeper emotions. The word “freak” is not hurtful in itself, but the underlying message of hatred is what really drives the knife in deep. That might not be enough to break your physical bones, but it could certainly crush your mental and emotional bones.


Cheesy metaphors aside, it’s  mind-blowing to me that communication has evolved in this way. I hate to generalize like this, but society really has constructed this complex system and oftentimes it’s used to inflict some serious damage.


Granted, it’s not always used for such negative purposes. I realize this column has a slightly more negative tinge than normal, and I can only chalk this up to having a limited amount of time and number of words to explain my thoughts on this.


But, as always, I want to end on a positive note. It’s important to be mindful of the power of words. And, there are plenty of opportunities to use this power to really make a positive impact on the world.