The Dharma offers a logical approach to playground bullying and taunting. Despite the best playground logic which holds that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” we all know instinctively that words can hurt. It would seem like a perfect opportunity to teach a child about the Dharma, to teach that words have the power to hurt, and that all creatures wish to avoid suffering. In fact, many positive psychologists are effectively using the Loving Kindness Meditation to reduce bullying.
“Never speak harsh words For they will rebound upon you. Angry words hurt And the hurt rebounds.” -Buddha
Though the children’s rhyme, “I’m rubber and you’re glue” may touch on the concepts of psychological projection and rebounding hurt, Buddha’s words have more genuine profundity. The dharma teaches that actions have consequences. Acknowledging the pain that words can cause is paramount to dealing with them appropriately. Angry words hurt the listener as well as the speaker.
Conversely, kind words benefit both parties. Now scientists say it goes further than that. Kindness, they say, benefits the onlooker as well. All those involved in an act of kindness, even passive witnesses, are rewarded with an increase in the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that improves mood.
Numerous scientific studies show that acts of kindness result in significant physical, mental and emotional health benefits. Positive emotions reverse feelings of depression, isolation and hostility resulting in less stress and a healthier immune system. This allows your body to recover from illnesses including PTSD, ulcers, asthma, fatigue, insomnia and others.
It’s a matter of what kind of world one wants to create, one filled with the reverberation of angry words or one filled with greater health and kindness. Furthermore, words of criticism can easily be confused with anger, so words must be carefully examined.
Buddha teaches that criticism, far from being tolerated, should be accepted like treasure. In the Dhammapada, Buddha offers, “Someone who points out your mistakes, declares them as weaknesses and condemns them, think of such a person as one showing you a treasure.”
We have a tendency to shun good advice and show resentment when our faults are pointed out. A true friend should not remain mute to avoid conflict, but rather tell hard truths and offer constructive criticism. As Ben Franklin writes, “Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults.”
Ultimately, we’d all be better off if we could learn never to speak harsh words and to accept criticism with appreciation. These are more honest and profitable ways of dealing with the human condition by accepting the ability of words to hurt and seeking to reduce the pain associated with them. The earlier in life we can learn these lessons, the better life will be for all of us. After all, if everyone took Buddha’s advise, words really would never hurt us.