Richard Randolph

July 3, 1955--Oregon
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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
but it’s words that really hurt you.
Language that systematically undermines
one’s culture, race, religion, or sexual orientation
slowly dehumanizes and degrades
until hate and violence become acceptable,
normalized, even inevitable.

But lesser insults also do lasting damage,
a girl teased for being ugly by her peers,
a boy taunted for being effeminate,
a school system that lauds some as smart
while tacitly insinuating others are stupid.
These all create scars that never heal,
but only fester with time.

Withheld words can be weapons, too.
The wall of silence an unpopular child faces at school,
a mother who never tells her children she loves them,
a spouse who no longer compliments their partner,
a loved one who quits answering your calls.
These are all cruel forms of communication,
as clearly as any words could be.

The most reprehensible abuses of speech, though,
are by those who twist the truth for money.
Paid off by big oil, big pharma, the NRA, and the like,
or merely consumed by self-righteous indignation,
they somehow feel themselves justified to lie
to manipulate people to act against their own interests,
and even against our planet.

Let us have free and open debates, by all means.
But when news sources flood the airways
with manipulated images, lies presented as truth, and vitriol,
it destroys the possibility for any honest discussion
and often leads even well-intentioned people astray.
It’s simple: such lying is harmful and should be illegal.
After all, sticks and stones are, indeed, dangerous,
but it’s words that really hurt us.
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