Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
We all sing-songed those words as kids (followed with a “niyeah”) to ward off the careless words of other children. And while I’d hate to ruin a child’s coping mechanism, I completely disagree. Words do hurt.
Words are both our canvas and our paint. Writers use them to build worlds, construct lives and shape stories. I know on several occasions I’ve told myself during a bout with writer’s block that they are only words, they won’t hurt me. At least not physically.
But words do inflict physical pain. Like the face that launched a thousand ships, how many of our civilization’s wars have been spawned by an errant word? How many walls were built by misunderstood utterances? And, how many people have died by a false statement?
Words can hurt and kill and maim. Just ask Nanon Williams, a 38-year-old former Death Row inmate who continues to serve time for a murder he didn’t commit. He has lost 20 years of his life because someone else said he committed a crime, even when evidence shows he didn’t. And, the refusal to grant a word to give him freedom from the oversight committee is equally damning.
But even in his darkest moments, Nanon turned to words to heal. As a teenager on Death Row, he picked up a pen and began writing. He spoke with the men serving on Death Row, using his gift of writing to give them a voice – in many cases the first time someone really listened to what they were saying.
I’m telling you his story because Nanon and I share a publisher, GoodMedia Press, and his newest book, “The Darkest Hour: Shedding Light on the Impact of Isolation and Death Row in Texas Prisons” will be out in November (with a foreword from Susan Sarandon!).
The next time you are struggling over the right word, or find your tongue itching to utter an unkind word, think about the power of your words. Would you rather they build someone up, or crash the world around them?