‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’
I don’t know who first said this, but I can’t understand why it became so popular. Because it’s quite simply wrong. I would re-render it as:
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but there’s nothing like words to bring you down.’
Some of us can handle criticism better than others. On the one hand, I’m a bit envious of the thick skinned among us, and I want to know your secrets! But on the other hand, psychologists say you need five positive affirmations per one negative comment to thrive. That means that no matter how self-confident we are, a lot of us are operating at a deficit of positivity a lot of the time.
No matter how thick skinned you are, I think it’s safe to say none of us enjoy being criticised. But we can teach ourselves to evaluate any thoughts, feedback or comments more objectively; to learn what needs to be learned and leave behind what needs left behind.
Here’s a personal example. One of the most important heart questions for me is, ‘do you really care?’ Just as a major need of mine is to feel cared for, I try my best to care for others. I don’t always do it well, but it’s really important to me.
So one of the most devastating things someone could accuse me of is being cold or uncaring. It’s happened to me before, and I lost a lot of sleep over it. But when a kind friend helped me lay out the evidence and weigh it up, I realised that the accuser didn’t actually know the details of how I spent my time or who I spent it with. But I did, and there was a lot they had assumed that was based on an incomplete picture. Their assessment was not a fact, it was an opinion. And it wasn’t true. Now, I could let it go more easily, without holding on to it, carrying it around, or trying to justify myself to that person.
That episode made me realise the distress that comes from treating every thought in our mind, opinion about us or assumption about us as automatically true. Just because someone has an opinion, does not mean it is valid. Just because someone has made an assumption about me, does not mean it is accurate. And just because I subconsciously believe something to be true about myself, it doesn’t mean I’m right.
This world’s people-pleasers have a tendency to burn themselves out trying to fulfil everyone’s demands. But at some point all of us have to realise that we can choose to live either according to unlimited expectations or our finite capacities. No one else is going to make that decision for us.
And here’s the thing that can really help us not to be driven by what people think:
Knowing the difference between fact and opinion.
💯A fact is something that can be verified with evidence.
⁉️An opinion is an assertion based on belief and viewpoint.
💯 Fact – The music is in C minor
⁉️Opinion – That music is awful
Seems easy to differentiate, doesn’t it? But it’s not always as clear cut as all that when people are involved.
So next time you experience thoughts or words that bring you down, ask yourself, is this fact or opinion?
Weigh up the for and against evidence. If you decide on fact, then take up the challenge to learn what needs to be learned. If it’s a misplaced opinion, take the necessary time you need to identify it as such and …
Maybe we need to adopt another version of that saying from now on,
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never define me.’