In the third grade, I was a sassy little know-it-all. I flaunted my intellectual prowess over the other students like a lord over his plebeians. I honestly don’t think I meant to be so elitist, I just hadn’t learned to reign in my enthusiasm. But there was one girl—let’s call her Tonya—who was about to call me out on it.
One morning, Tonya started calling me names and mocking me. It hurt. I went home and told my mom, who gave me some advice.
“Sarah,” she said, “The next time she says something ugly to you, just reply with, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’.”
“Got it,” I replied. I was armed and ready. The next day, Tonya called me a name. I was chomping at the bit to say my lines. I delivered an Oscar-worthy performance. As the last word left my mouth and I was swelling with pride at how awesome I was, I felt a strange sensation in my stomach.
Tonya’s fist had just delivered a blow to my belly. I doubled over in pain, trying to catch the breath that had just been knocked out of me. “Well that didn’t go as planned,” I thought.
That day I learned two valuable lessons: punches to the stomach hurt, and so do our words. I call BS on that cutesy little rhyme. Words do hurt. As easily as we can encourage someone, we can tear a person down. Rip them to shreds. Make them feel insignificant, unworthy and dumb.
The tongue has the power of life and death… – Proverbs 18:21
We have a choice every time we open our mouths. We can speak life into someone or we can speak death.
Death is what I did to Tonya. My attitude, words and general “snarkiness” made her feel like she was less of person. I killed whatever sense of self-worth she was trying to hold onto. Looking back, I no longer see a mean girl. I see a girl defending herself and her honor. I probably totally deserved that punch to the gut. Secretly, the teacher must have realized that too. She saw that we both had a lesson to learn. The very next day after “stomach-gate,” she intentionally paired us together to be computer buddies at the library.
I was horrified. But then, something wonderful happened. Tonya smiled, I smiled. We began to laugh and work together. In a matter of minutes, we had resolved our 8-year-old differences and finished out the year…best buds.