"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." I remember grownups telling me this when I was a kid. Most of us, if not all of us, probably heard this recited from various adults who were in some type of position of influence at one time or another. At the surface it seems like sound advice. Right? But is it the right advice? Does it really help? Let me make this easy for you and give you the answer, "NO!" And that's with a big, fat "N" and a big fat "O." This statement isn't the only crappy advice our kids get. There are lots more that are just poppycock - in my humble opinion.
1. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Really? Now, I do understand where this statement is going. It's trying to teach us that others' opinions don't really matter. Our opinion of ourselves is what truly matters. Here's the problem. Research has shown that our self-identity is influenced by how we believe others perceive us. In short, if enough people tell me that I'm a loser, then eventually I'm going to start believing it. Julia Wood explains in her book, Communication Mosaics, "When we're around downers, we tend to feel down about ourselves. Reflecting their perspectives, we're more aware of our weaknesses and less confident of what we can accomplish. Downer's discourage belief in ourselves." The language we use matters. It's not only a reflection of what's around us. It creates the reality that exists around us. Sticks and stones may break my bones and words can definitely affect me. So, instead of perpetuating the myth, let's help our kids to understand that the words they choose to use do matter. They can leave bruises just as bad as the sticks and the stones can - just not the visible kind.
2. "If you can dream it, you can do it!" Thanks Jimmy for that little nugget! Blades of Glory was an awesome movie wasn't it? When people say this to their kids, do they really understand just how much of a downer it's gonna be for their kids as they get older and reality hits them right between the eyeballs? I (day)dream all the time about what a kick-ass rock chick I could make - especially as I jam out riding down I-95 in my Jeep. But guess what? Even if I had the motivation to move to L.A., or Atlanta, or N.Y., and knock down every door of every producer I could find, I still would not be a Haley Williams. (That was a Paramore reference for you "uncool" readers out there.) I just don't have the pipes. Perhaps with a lot of practice and a personal vocal coach, I could strive to be better than average. But here's the thing - everybody can't do everything. It's only natural. Some are just naturally better at some things than others. And that's okay! We all do have a natural talent at something. The key is finding that something and going for it. My talent? Sniffing BS and writing BS.
3. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This has got to be the most egocentric statement of ...well, forever. I have to say, The Golden Rule is probably the worst relationship advice one could ever follow. What happened to individuality? Accepting others for who they are? Understanding that not everybody is alike? Well, if you really want to be all "we are the world" and stuff then you have got to get rid of this rule. Why? Because not everybody is like you! Here's an example. Let's think about the fridge at work shall we? It's amazing how passionate people get about their Hot Pockets and soda at work. Don't believe me? Take one without asking first and see what happens. People have gotten fired over this stuff! Now, when I was working full-time outside the home (before I decided to become a hermit writer), I would stock the office fridge with various frozen meals and drinks. If someone else was hungry and hadn't brought anything to eat, I wouldn't mind if he or she grabbed a meal. If someone was thirsty, I'd tell them to grab a drink. What's mine is yours. This was my philosophy. But not everyone shared the same sentiment. Just because I didn't mind the occasional disappearance of my Lean Cuisines didn't mean that others would feel the same. I would not dare just go into the fridge and take someone else's food. Why? Because I follow The Platinum Rule! "Treat others in the way they want to be treated." So, even though I didn't mind others grabbing a treat, I didn't assume that everyone felt that same way. I would keep my paws to my own food. If everyone could just follow The Platinum Rule, the world would be a much better place. No one would get pissed. No one would get into fights. And no one would get fired. At least not over the contents of the fridge at work.
4. "If you wait long enough, good things will happen." I tell you what, while you're waiting for the I'm-Gonna-Make-All-Your-Dreams-Come-True fairy to show up and just make good things happen, I'm going to be outside actually making things happen. I think this saying is supposed to support the "Patience is a virtue" thing, but I don't think it quite hits the mark. Afterall, the only things that happen when I wait around are the laundry pile gets bigger, the trash starts stinking, and my family gets irritable from being hungry. I think we're better off teaching the young ones that if you wait around long enough, your butt will become numb from not moving. Let's face it. Good things happen when we work for it. Want to be an athlete? You have to train hard and even lose some games to keep getting better. Want to be a musician? You have to practice every day. Make a demo. Get your music out there to be heard - or join the Disney Channel. The point is, nobody got anywhere by waiting. You move forward. Blast through some brickwalls if you have to. And if you keep moving long enough, then the good things will eventually happen.
5. "Don't play in the dirt, you'll get germs." Well, okay so this one may be true. But that doesn't mean that it's necessarily bad! I remember when my kids were younger, I took them to a playground. There was a tiny creek where we found little tadpoles swimming around. They loved it and immediately began catching as many as they could. Yes, it was dirty. It was muddy and gross. But they were happy and having a great time. Another little kid came running up to also join in the fun, but was quickly snatched up by his mother. She had a look on her face. You know the look. The look that she must've just smelled something really bad. I double checked and there was no odor. I didn't understand what the problem was until I heard her tell the little boy that he couldn't play in the mud because it was dirty and full of nasty germs. They funny thing is my kids were hardly ever sick growing up. We had dogs that would lick their face to give them a kiss. Cats who would sleep in their beds. And a whole world outside for them to go a dig up. Hmmmmm. Maybe there is something to that silly research that says some exposure is actually good for building the immune system.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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