Sticks and Stones

I’m reviewing a manuscript where the heroine is the recipient of some nasty comments from a rival, and the author is refusing to let her heroine be affected by these comments. Our editorial panel has tried, in various ways, to gently explain to her that it doesn’t matter how self-assured a person may be. Some things just hurt, and you shouldn’t be afraid of recognizing it.

But she was adamant that words should have no affect on a strong character, on a woman’s self-confidence. That, however true their mark may be, words have no power.

I have to respectfully disagree.

I was very self-assured when I was younger (we’re so certain of ourselves when we don’t know anything, aren’t we?), even with the occasional skin breakout that left a scar now and then. I rarely worried about this because the people around me never commented, and I had everything else going for me. Until this hot young journalist came to intern at the magazine where I worked.  I enjoyed working there—with the exception of a snobby little sub-editor, the place was routinely populated with tough journalists, important analysts and the kind of conversations that, I imagine, shaped our world. We even received death threats after a particularly daring cover story, resulting in a brief police investigation, and a temporary armed guard stationed outside the office.

Never a dull moment!

But, back to my story…

My skin wasn’t something I was thinking about when I sat down and spent a good hour chatting up the intern. He seemed to be as interested in talking to me (we were discussing something extremely important—the increasing use of gangland imagery among urban youth, I think. Yeah. Right up my alley.), and the pesky sub-editor was neatly kept out of the conversation with a little deft maneuvering on my part. All it took to dethrone me, however, was one sentence.

In a lull, she leaned forward and looked at me intently. Then, loudly, and with a hint of condescension, she said, “You know, you could clear up those acne scars by putting some lemon juice on them.”

It was a masterstroke. If I had been standing, I would have fallen, she cut out my legs so effectively. I forgot what I had been talking about, and everything vanished from my head except the sudden clear vision of my face covered in scars. She had the intern out the door before I recovered. I never found the courage to approach him again.

I don’t believe in the old adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words…’ Words will wrench your gut in a second, and lay your soul bare. Words will bury themselves deep inside you and attach themselves to your skin. They will drive you to despair, and fly you out to the heights of ecstasy. Words have power.

And we are all affected by them.