“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

That was a chant heard frequently by elementary grade students when I was growing up in the South and the Arkansas Delta way back in the early 1960s. Youngsters would use this phrase to repel verbal assaults or insults hurled at them by their fellow students or classmates.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

That was a chant heard frequently by elementary grade students when I was growing up in the South and the Arkansas Delta way back in the early 1960s. Youngsters would use this phrase to repel verbal assaults or insults hurled at them by their fellow students or classmates.

That phrase could not be further from the truth.

Cruel words can inflict almost as much pain as a good old fashioned whipping. In some cases the wounds and scars left by words last a lifetime.

I went to school in an era when schools were racially segregated at least until I enrolled in high school in the late 60s and early 70s. So, I didn't truly witness the disrespect and indignity that was inflected on an entire race of people on a daily basis until I reached high school.

That doesn't mean that I don't have some ugly images in my mind of people mistreating people. Cruelty is not relegated to racism alone. There were children that were verbally abused because they were not as attractive as “normal” children. The obese and handicapped children also were frequent targets of bullies.

During my high school period, the humor of the day consisted of putdown jokes. Inspired by such comedians as Johnny Carson and Don Rickles, the object was to belittle and insult people. It really wasn't very funny among a bunch of adolescent teens and is one of the life's episodes of which I most ashamed of the “Class of 71.”

Shamefully, I must admit that there were times that I participated in such unacceptable behavior of inappropriate teasing just to be a part of the “in-crowd” or simply out of cowardice to avoid being persecuted myself.

Once words are spoken, they can never be taken back. The example a highly respected Sunday School teacher gave once was that hurling words is like cutting open a feather pillow on a hilltop on a windy day. Try as you may to retrieve those loose feathers they are lost in the air forever and there they remain.

I am not a man of many spoken words. At one time I thought that was a curse. I can't get up before groups and speak and I am so bashful even in small groups that I frequently don't speak up or take part in discussions. Today, I feel that silence can truly be a blessing. Too many times I have said things that I truly wish I could take back but I can't.

President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Of course there are times when a person needs to speak out against social injustices and lack of morals. God blessed me with the ability to put things down in writing. In this way, I am able to think things out as I express myself before actually putting them in print.

The Bible has plenty to say about the tongue and the difficulty man has establishing control over it. The tongue boasts of great things and frequently all sorts of cruel communication flows from it. The Bible also offers some more good advice saying be slow to speak and slow to anger.

Silence indeed is golden. Before you lash out at someone in anger please stop and think. What you say cannot be taken back. Of course, you can ask for forgiveness but the damage has been done.

Speak gently and be kind.