Sticks and Stones

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Your Words, Your Choice
by Lobna Youssef Mulla
MAS National Tarbiya Director

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

This phrase is somewhat useful for children as a comeback to an insult. As we grow, however, we come to know the reality behind the power of words: they can hurt and leave scars, or they can uplift, heal, and inspire. This Dhul Hijjah, let us approach the choice of words we make on a daily basis with a renewed sense of responsibility.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, reminded us about the importance of not harming others with our words in the following two ahadeeth (sayings of the Prophet):

“The believer does not defame, abuse, disparage, nor vilify.” (al-Tirmidhi)

“Do not dispute with your brother, ridicule him, nor promise him and then break your promise.” (al-Tirmidhi)

The other day, I heard my child use a phrase in response to their annoyance with one of their siblings. It dawned on me that I have heard my older children use this phrase as well. Where did they get this from? I calmly asked my child if I use that phrase, and all of my children responded, “Yes, all the time.” While the phrase was not bad in and of itself, my kids learned to use it against one another when frustrated. As mentors, parents and teachers we often forget how impactful our words are – for better or worse. We sometimes even wish to lovingly joke or tease one another and use terms that are seemingly benign. This too, should be another area of reflection for us. How do we know how the receiving end internalizes these nicknames and jokes? Once I heard a father joke with his daughter and call her chubby. She told him that she wasn’t chubby and immediately the father responded, “I didn’t mean it, I was just joking.” Regardless, the words stuck. Months passed, and when the girl chose healthier snacks or exercised, she would add, “See, I’m not fat.”

The fact of the matter is, when we make an innocent comment or joke, we know our intentions, but we don’t know how the other person will receive it. We don’t know what struggles or past experiences the other person has endured which may lend a more painful meaning to something that was said in fun.

And what about the power of good words? Acknowledgement, encouragement, and words of praise from mentors, teachers and parents have the ability to turn the life of an individual around. How easy is it to engage with loved ones, coworkers, and even strangers in a positive manner, with something as simple, “Great work,” or “Good morning,” or “I love you.” All too often, we pass on these opportunities. Perhaps we are in a rush, unsure of what the response will be, or at times, just plain oblivious of those around us.

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, also mentioned the importance of positive words:

“Kind speech and feeding (the hungry) guarantee you Paradise.” (al-Tabarani)

“A good word is also a charitable deed.” (Muslim)

From the statements above, we understand how highly regarded kind words are. We all make choices every time we open our mouths. So, let us take a few moments before we speak and choose our words wisely. During these blessed days, let us make an extra effort to share more kind words and eliminate sarcastic, mean, and foolish words from our everyday speech.