Sting Words – The Newnan Times-Herald

I have received – and cherish – lovely emails from readers.

Thank you to everyone who emailed me with your kind words. I have yet to receive vitriolic hate emails. Please do not send them.

So many angry people these days are expressing useless, cruel and sharp barbs to drain their spleen and hurt someone. Their words come from poisonous intentions, from defensive, reptilian reflexes. People hit with the intent to hurt or scare because they can, and often because they need to hurt someone else to feel better about themselves. Or they think they’re right and anyone who disagrees is an idiot who wants to fight.

My mom used to say, “You can be right or you can be nice. You can’t always be both.

We see so much verbal enmity on social media these days and in our politicians and media.

Our children need better role models than this. And we shouldn’t take them to Sunday school every week and then let them go on Monday with a tirade of insults directed at them or others.

The children listen. And learn. Check out South Pacific’s “You Must Be Taught” if you need a refresher. Or Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” in Into the Woods.

We must remember that words sting and they stick. Then we have to decide to care.

I remember meeting my sixth grade English teacher on the first day of school. Ms. Force (aptly named, I quickly decided) was something of a hatchet, short and stocky with a stern demeanor and a gripping deep bass voice with an annoyingly gritty voice. She walked around the room asking each student to say their name out loud. When she came up to me, she said, “Aaaand. Who. Are. You?”

I swallowed hard. I managed to say “Susie,” already intimidated by her laser stare, harsh tone, and weird, cut-off rendition of Betty Davis/Louis Armstrong. Now, today, I would even add some Harvey Fierstein to that vocal assessment.

“Well,” she said, “‘Susie’ sounds more like a poodle name, volume. Are you a poodle?

I looked down in embarrassment and disbelief. With a sinister laugh, she ticked my name off her roll, and was onto her next victim, letting me recoil from her exquisite prick. If she mistook me for a poodle, I felt like an abused poodle puppy in that moment, indeed. She might as well have hit me on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

“What have I done to deserve thisI puzzled, fuming silently.

I never forgot that.

I put this episode in a mental box at the time, closing the lid tight. As the year went on, I proved that I was an excellent grammar student, although there was not a single creative and poetic moment in the whole year in her class. I could sketch a sentence with the best of them. I excelled in parts of speech, tenses and spelling.

But there was nothing uplifting or uplifting from these humorless women who were all about cut and dry facts, “correct” checkmarks and “incorrect” exes on our homework. I appreciate today having acquired valuable grammatical knowledge, but at the time I was also hungry for originality and imagination. I never felt comfortable with this woman until I was in sixth grade. Apparently I’m still not comfortable with her 60 years later.

I never told him how I felt about his little beard either. I thought she never thought about it and had no idea how her words stung me. I also didn’t want to risk being scolded for being too sensitive when I was convinced she would say she didn’t mean anything. Or worse, she wanted it to sting and wanted to watch me squirm.

I decided she was just who she was, whatever. Wicked or ignorant or well intentioned, it was not for me to decide. What she said, for some reason, stung, for some reason, and my response was legit. Period.

My seventh-grade English teacher, Alice Cheeseman, was kind, creative, interested in my work, and wrote notes to my parents encouraging me to keep writing. She lifted my spirit. She provided me with constructive criticism which I gladly accepted. I give him credit for getting me back on the creative writing path after a thirsty year in the wilderness with his predecessor.

After Alice, I was blessed with a series of teachers who mentored and supported me as they educated and enriched me.

Hateful rhetoric from hateful people does not happen in a vacuum. It is the result of one or more spikes that have stung them and continue to sting. Soon, each sting strengthens all the others and a damaged, changed person emerges.

The one important thing Mrs. Force taught me apart from all the superficial rules of grammar was this: all our lives there will be people who use words for different reasons, for good and for bad. . Some will rise. Others will sting. Expect this. Let them educate you and model what to do and what not to do. Care. Don’t let them change you.

Be careful what you say. Also, be careful what you say to yourself. This little child is still within you, in need of protection, guidance, and kind and encouraging words.

What did they tell you as a child that itchy, that you will never forget?


A longtime Newnan resident, Susie Berta enjoys many creative pursuits including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife”. It can be attached to the s[email protected].

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