Whatever Happened to Sticks and Stones?

By Dee Armstrong

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never harm me. Only if I LET them!

Yes, words can hurt, but only if they come from someone I respect and love. Even then, I get over it. I don’t scar easily. And, as I matured, I found it easier to walk away from trouble.

Speaking words or putting them down on paper (or a computer screen) requires a certain level of vocabulary. Words put together in a clear, unambiguous narrative can inform, influence or motivate. Words written or spoken for any other reason are just blanks, with little to no power to do much of anything, unless we allow them.

Name-calling, as children, was frowned upon, but parents realized they couldn’t protect their children from every bad thing. So, we were taught the sticks-and-stones philosophy. Don’t let others hurt you with their hurtful words. That lesson encouraged self-confidence and taught us to walk away from most trouble. Pick your battles—and name-calling wasn’t worth the fight.

Several decades ago, I was watching the Johnny Carson Show one late night (remember him?). Johnny was conducting an audience search for the most unusual or funny name. I can’t recall what names popped up, but I said to myself, “If I was there in that audience, I would have won the prize.” My parents stuck me with the given name of Edith Muriel Kronbitter. Could it get any worse or any funnier?

I hated elementary school classmates calling me “Eat-It.” In middle school, I was so skinny and tall they called me Beanpole, and taunted, that, when I turned sideways, I disappeared. At high school graduation, you can imagine my horror when the principal called me to the stage to get my diploma: “Edith Krumbiter.” Would I ever live that down? I wanted to move away, far away.

As I grew into an adult, and started my family, I realized that names could actually help or hurt a child. I started thinking carefully about what to name my daughter. I was named Edith after the dear and generous English woman who took my abandoned mother into her home and cared for her, taught her, and loved my sister and me as if we were her real grandchildren. We called her Aunt Edith. Muriel was my mother’s name. Kronbitter? A German name from Kronenbiter—beggar of coins. Oh well, no way to talk myself into loving that one.  I often wonder if I got married just to change my last name. At the wedding reception, I’ll never forget my new mother-in-law’s greeting: “Welcome to the family, dear. Now I can finally remember your last name!”

I digress. Naming my daughter. I managed to convince my husband on the first name Meredith, which contained our dear Aunt Edith’s name.  Middle name would be Jeanne, my deceased sister’s name. I liked the melody of “Meredith Jeanne.”  Of course, with the nickname of “Merrie,” her classmates taunted her with “Merry Christmas.” Kids just do those things.

Now, in my winter years, I’m pleased I’m named after a wonderful and kind woman. That’s called “growing up” with some good core values, I’m proud to say.

So now I face the issue of PC—political correctness. We can think it (at lease, still), but before we speak, most of what we want to say we must re-run through our brain several times, checking for anything offensive to anyone. Not me. Implementation of my freedom of speech has lost me a few friends, but I figure they weren’t really friends anyway.

I believe we have the First Amendment right to speak—not spread lies or yell “Fire” in a theater—but to speak our minds and opinions.

If someone calls me a name I don’t like, I don’t have to listen. If someone writes something I don’t like, I can stop reading. If I see a TV show I find offensive (lots of them out there), I change the channel. I don’t file a complaint or hire a lawyer. If I do those things to someone else, they have choices too. Turn away, delete the email, take the book back to the library, change the channel.

No wonder our current state of affairs is in chaos. Everyone is picking on everyone else for some dumb reason or another. I believe our country is producing a whole fragile generation who has way too much time on its hands to scrutinize others’ speech. I feel like telling the politically correct police that life isn’t fair, and your opinion is yours to voice, but, according to the Constitution, I can voice mine too, whether you like it or not.

Here goes an eyebrow-raiser. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “hate” crime. To hate is NOT a crime. It sure isn’t constructive and can do the hater lots of damage, physically, emotionally, and certainly spiritually. However, hate is not illegal. It’s the action that is the crime, regardless of whether hate is involved or not. Someone who murders someone because they hate them–or love them–is still a murderer. At the trial, hate may be motive. The three elements to prove guilt are motive, means and opportunity. None of these three things is the crime. They just help convict. But murder committed for any reason is still murder. What about the mother who abandons or even kills her children because her new boyfriend doesn’t want kids? What about the out-of-control druggie who assaults or kills for money to buy drugs? What about the grandson who kills the grandparents for his inheritance? Lots of emotions—or lack of them—can motivate someone to commit a crime. It’s the action that is the crime—not the emotion or motivation.

I know first-hand about motive. The man who killed my sister stood in court, crying, and sincerely claiming he loved her so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of her dating someone else. Jealously was the motive, not the crime. Should he be punished any less because he didn’t hate her? Our judicial system must separate the motive from the crime. Motive is certainly one element of proving guilt, but taking a life is the CRIME.

Name calling can hurt and damage us, if we let it. As humans, we have the ability to heal, even though we might need help from family, friends or community. We must take a look at how we raise our children. I believe in the sticks-and-stones approach, because, as my dear mom would say from experience, where there’s life, there’s hope. We have choices, at least so far. Society must recognize the priceless value of our First Amendment or we, collectively and individually, will certainly crumble and fail.

Be safe, stay informed, and thanks for reading!

© 2019 Dee Armstrong All Rights Reserved

2 Replies to “Whatever Happened to Sticks and Stones?”

    1. Dee Armstrong Post author

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with its spirit. We certainly should speak our views with respect for others. But I also believe “we,” collectively as citizens of the United States, don’t “have to,” according to the First Amendment. Our freedom of speech is crimped only when we threaten or incite bodily harm, such as shouting “fire” in a theater or inciting a riot. I’ve been called many bad names in my lifetime of outspokenness and mistakes. I have truthfully called out others for what I believe they are. In my humble opinion, we, as individuals and as a nation, have become much too sensitive. The only people who can hurt me with words are those I allow to do so. Most of those people and those words mean nothing to me. Thank goodness my mother instilled this valuable principle in us early in our childhood.

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