We all remember those times in middle school, around the age of 13, when friends could become enemies in an instant. There was one such time for me in eighth grade. As a shy, do-gooder, and socially conservative kid, I was rarely seen by my friends as a threat or a bother. However, one of my supposed good friends accused me of back-stabbing him by ratting him out to another friend. I had done no such thing, and was quite taken aback when this friend shoved me into a trash can and called me a rat.
I was devastated. It was the first fight I’d gotten in (and it wasn’t much of a fight), and the first time and I’d been accused of being someone I wasn’t. Eighth grade is a cruel time of life, and this was my wakeup call. To this day, I can still remember the feeling of being shoved, called a name, and laughed at by those surrounding me. It’s not painful today, but it is still etched in my memory.
Kids are especially susceptible to taking on the influence of name-calling as they are still in the formative years of their development, both physically and emotionally. The reality is that even though adults are out of their formational years, name-calling is still just as painful.
I’ve never understood the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” When I said it as a kid, it always felt hollow despite the promise of immunity from an older friend. The truth is that sticks and stones AND words will hurt me.
Words can be as sharp as a two-edged sword, as pointed as a dagger; they are as deadly to the soul as any weapon. The great news is that just as words can be used to cause harm, so too can they be used to heal.
For instance, name-calling is one way that we can inflict harm upon someone else. Saying that someone is stupid, an idiot, or other names that I won’t mention here, is in effect an act of violence. Sometimes being hurt by someone is so painful that we resort to name-calling. In effect, we use derogative names to get the other person to feel as hurt as we do.
Harmful words from someone who professes love to us is like a friend offering poisoned water to a thirsty person. It’s a violation of trust, love, and respect. It’s also immature. Children call each other names; not adults.
In the same way that names can be harmful, they can also be healing. We have all been called names by those from our past. Some of us even refer to those names as the gold-standard in our lives. We’re a living library catalogue of words and names people have given us. Some of these names deeply affect our present lives.Trusted friends or a partner can help us to rename ourselves.
Some questions to ask yourself, and a loved one, as you consider this topic.
- In what ways have I been named, helpfully and/or harmfully?
- In what ways have I named others, helpfully and/or harmfully? Do I need to make amends for this?
- What needs do I have from those closest to me in this area?
- What needs do those closest to me have for me?
One final thought. When the fall happened to Adam and Eve many years ago, nothing was left unaffected. Words are some of the most precious gifts we have in life because it is how we explain and tell others who we are and what we need. One day the brokenness of words, and specifically of names, will also be redeemed. This is the day that we look forward to as a beacon for how to be present today. Be mindful of this and the impact on your choice of words.