Sticks and Stones


Enter the nemesis. I think it was fifth grade. I had a nemesis and it was a girl. Her name was…let’s just call her Judy Penroth. That’s not her name–I made that up. For the sake of argument, if there happens to be a Judy Penroth who reads this post at some point in the future I do not count you among the Anti-Barba.

Fifth Grade was hard enough without having to contend with a nemesis. Judy was not my first nemesis and surely was not the last. I had a little experience with a nemesis before but Judy was relentless. Her presence was mustard gas to my system. I didn’t even want to be around her. The weird thing is I never knew why she chose me. I see the questioning looks out there, but make no mistake. SHE. Chose. ME…as her nemesis. I had no choice but to reciprocate. I think she had some sort of select-a-nemesis checklist.

Our paths never crossed socially. She was upper-middle class with a dash of split-level vinyl siding. I was small-town, small church, deep-fried in a triple layer of smart mouth. She was, by appearance, more economically sound than I was. She was glowing white Nikes before there was Air. I was Goodwill thrift store before it was cool. Our grades were about the same as far as I knew. However, somewhere on her gifts and talents test for nemesis I scored off the chart and with that I earned her ire.

We warred with words and evil deeds. I would hide her stuff and leave for the day ensuring she spent countless hours searching. She would call me names and point out the deficit in my fashion prowess, making me the mockery of the fledgling fifth-grade socialites. If it’s possible to believe, there were no genuine “cool kids” at our school, so I couldn’t deny her a seat our lunch table. I did make sure my back faced her at mealtime so I could have plausible deniability in the event there were flying objects in her direction.

This presented a problem in that I was a target. I didn’t have the recognizance of my eyes at my disposal. To avert this flaw in my strategy I placed my self in the line of sight of the lunch room monitor. This guaranteed safety from attack and the challenge of staging an offensive between the momentary glances of the monitor.

After one particularly pleasant lunch, my friend Billy and I were chatting. Enter the nemesis.

Judy: Whatcha talking about, Stupid?

Me: Hit the road, you bag of dog logs.

Judy: Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.

Me to Billy: Let’s go get some sticks and stones.

Nemesis thwarted. BooYah.

The problem with her defense was it’s a lie. Words do hurt. They can destroy. When I uttered those words to Billy, Judy turned on her heels and skulked away. We have been given this faulty bag of goods as kids that the way people talk to us doesn’t matter. That their words can’t damage us. It’s a travesty, because it does matter.

Our days are filled with people who have been marginalized, abused or incarcerated by ill-spoken words from a significant person. A parent, a mentor or friend inflicts the initial wound, then subsequent harm comes from others because the injury is exposed.

Where do all of these explosive words come from? If we stick to the pattern of the lie that people’s words can’t hurt us, then we can deduce that how we talk to others or about others doesn’t hurt them either. So I can say all manner of slanderous language without worry.


I gotta watch my mouth. It probably looks like a verbal lawn mower cut a path of damage behind me, my words spewing severed humanity in every direction. I ran across Matthew 4:4 which is popularly misused. It says that “Man does not live by bread alone….” It goes on to finish “but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” How’s that for how important words are? We live by the words of God, not food. If God knows words are so vital then I think we need to learn that as well.

Do you have your pie hole under wraps or does it flap with reckless abandon?

8 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

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  1. Even as a kid I never liked the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Who thought this up?! Of course words hurt! And a lot, sometimes even for years! Now, does that make my words any less quick to fall out of my mouth? Of course, not, but in my old age, haha, I am learning to at least think twice about them whether it is before or after they are released.


  2. You are right! Boy, do words hurt – even some things said in innocence. I remember things said in my childhood that have stuck with me until now.


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