By Laura Walusimbi

Growing up I heard this popular children’s rhyme too many times to count:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I suppose the rhyme was meant to dissuade us from reacting negatively to name-calling. If someone attempted to beat you with a stick or threw a stone at you, you presumably did something about that – ran away, defended yourself or fought back. If, however, someone abused you, you were supposed to remain calm and act normal because words are supposedly harmless.

But are words really harmless? Imagine meeting a good friend after a long time. You are excited to see her and catch up. She looks great – almost like she did when you were in high school. Then she does a double take, pauses dramatically and, before you can commend her, she asks: When did you grow FAT? That single word, ‘FAT’, is enough to cut you to the core. Okay. You know you are no longer the 50kg hot babe of days past, thanks to the five children you brought into this world, but does she have to go there?

Or how about this? Weeks after an intensive work out regime, you’re feeling good about yourself. You can walk up six flights of stairs in your office building with ease. There is no need to stop and catch your breath before you elegantly sashay into your office. As you arrange yourself to sit down, in saunters some senior office manager with the languorous stride of a bored teenager. She looks at you and gasps, “Eh, are you PREGNANT?” You steal a glance at your mid-section while mentally confirming that you have contracted your stomach muscles and wonder what could possibly make her think that. “It’s the blouse,” you mumble while tightening your muscles again – as uncomfortable as that is. But deep down inside you start to crumble.

And who hasn’t heard this: “WHAT are you wearing?” The question is usually delivered in that tone of voice that suggests you should not have stepped out of your home looking all frumpy and/or disheveled. Chances are it’s a new outfit or a new style, which you thought you had pulled off. But no! Some random person thinks it is their divine duty to let you know what an epic fail it is.

Sometimes we blurt out hurtful things without a thought about the consequences to the recipient. The words that hurt most are usually ones critical of our physical appearance. The reason why is because we try to look the best we can before we step out into any public arena. Whether we are fashionistas or not, a woman will not deliberately set out to look bad – at least most times that is what she thinks. But we are different. So what one woman thinks is a killer diva look may appear to another as a gaudy, plain-Jane look.

Whichever group you fall into, it would be best if you choose your words carefully when commenting on someone else’s appearance or when you feel the urge to belittle a person and ‘put them in their place’. Words like – “you’ll never amount to anything”;”you’re stupid”; and other such comments should be shelved for life and replaced with more constructive ones.

Words can make or break a person. Most people will tell you they are who they are because of what people said to or about them. The good book (The Bible) has some wisdom to dispense on the use of words, generally championing the use of positive words that build up a person. One verse that recently caught my attention was Proverbs 15:1 which says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. A lot of anger can be avoided by simply minding your language. What a difference it would make if we didn’t spew negativity in our speech.