I was recently contemplating the value of honesty and trying to determine whether it produces more advantageous results than would evasion and deception when it occurred to me that from my earliest memory, I have been roundly lied to.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
Turns out this is the biggest wad of ostrich shit ever to be converted into a colloquialism. I’m not just saying that so I can use the term “ostrich shit”, either. It’s documented fact. My own experiences certainly verify the findings of the researchers in the article. The injuries I suffered defending myself in fist fights as a kid have long since healed, but the emotional impetuses behind each one of those physical conflicts still affect me in one form or another to this day.
The sticks-n-stones adage doesn’t gain validity as we get older, either. Long after we’ve realized the limited nature of opinions and have learned to readily determine whose opinions should matter to us, the occasional rabbit-punch to the psyche finds it way through our defenses. A personal example that springs to mind came during a debate between my mom and me regarding the validity of the so-called “War on Terror”. I had made the claim that the Iraq war was indefensible, and in a zealous desire to put some conviction behind her unwavering republican values, my mother told me that if I, her only child, had joined the military and subsequently died in the Iraq desert, she would have felt my death was justified. That single sentiment injured me more than all the physical punishments she and my dad ever administered. With only her words, she tore open a rift between us that I seriously doubt will ever be fully repaired. I still call and visit my parents on occasion, but the visits are always tinged with the angst and heartache over mom’s utterly screwed up priorities. I would honestly have rather she just backhanded me across the face.
“If you just ignore them, they’ll leave you alone.”
Complete bullshit. Imagine a pale, gangly fourth grade boy with severe ADHD wearing Toughskins jeans and Payless shoes. You know, the kid who spends most recesses in the library reading rather than attempting to endure that brutal killing floor deceptively referred to as a “playground”. That was me. And I can assure you that no amount of feigned apathy ever stopped cruel schoolchildren from ruthlessly drawing out every one of my fears. In fact, whenever their abuse didn’t seem to be having any effect, they merely cranked it up a notch or four.
Again, becoming an adult won’t suddenly make the quaint little phrase true. To prove this, simply try ignoring Jehovah’s Witnesses. You’ll see. They’ll be back.
“There are no such things as monsters.”
OK, to be fair, it’s prohibitively impractical to go through a nightly litany of every heinous creature to ever haunt the dreams of children – especially lonely children with low self-esteem and gigantic imaginations. But still, wording is often very important. Referring to zombies and squid-headed behemoths with the same term you use to describe real threats like rapists and axe murderers tends to eliminate any intended comfort from the sentiment. A cold statement like “It is highly unlikely you will be in any danger as you sleep” would be as encouraging but have the benefit of also being accurate.
I think it goes without saying that by the time we’re adults, we don’t even give this one a single iota of credence. Of course there are monsters. Some monsters eat your legs if you go surfing at the wrong place or time and others lock their jaws onto your throat because some wannabe thug needed a pet that made him look the part. There are monsters that will cut your head off with a big-ass knife and there are others to whom retributive killing is more important and justifiable than educating children or providing public healthcare. You’ll even find monsters so insidious they can garner support and voluntary sacrifice from the very prey they feed upon. Given that, is it really any consolation Cthulhu is merely a work of fiction?
When I really stop and think about it, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised there are people who will believe outright lies delivered in the face of patently contradictory evidence. After all, we were pretty much weaned and raised on notions that are, like Ms. Palin’s speech, as untrue as they are convenient.
*The title of this post is taken from a line in the song Nancy Boy by Placebo.