Sticks and stones and other tales.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Emotions (Research)
Wounds and injuries (Psychological aspects)
Wounds and injuries (Research)
Psychologists (Practice)
Author: Hixson, Ronald
Pub Date: 12/22/2008
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Winter, 2008 Source Volume: 11 Source Issue: 4
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research; 200 Management dynamics
Product: Product Code: 8043300 Psychologists NAICS Code: 62133 Offices of Mental Health Practitioners (except Physicians) SIC Code: 8049 Offices of health practitioners, not elsewhere classified
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 192800790

This childhood riddle was often used to teach us not to be afraid of bullies or their words. No one likes to be hurt. When we are hit by sticks or stones, we might have broken bones or other physical injuries. This childish rebuff lacks credibility due to its distortion of the truth. Such statements as "words will never hurt me" are no more than a creative misrepresentation of the facts. Most adults would agree that words do, in fact, hurt our feelings. Years later, we are likely to remember situations where we were humiliated by a bully.

Feelings are more than skin deep. For most people, it can be very hard to hold back a harsh response when they feel insulted and disrespected. Many such exchanges have escalated into dangerous relationships that have sent people to the hospital or even the morgue. It should be clear that our world has become harsher, meaner, and a more dangerous place to live and work. One only has to look at all the conflicts or wars being fought in our global communities at any one time. For those corporations who specialize in weapons of destruction, conflicts are a "cash cow," bringing a steady revenue profit that often leads to expansion. There is more incentive to create weapons than to destroy them.

Changing Terms

As we listen to the pundits of economic astuteness, we hear terms such as "capitalism," "entrepreneurism," "economic cycles," "marketplace generators," and the "Market System." Names come and go, often fading with the rise of a more charming term that has a life of its own. Words and phrases begin as a sound bite and grow into a fad before fading. We hear of ownership, welfare giveaway, cost exploitation, price indexes, leverages, and insane oil speculation.

In previous generations, the words were somewhat different: antitrust legislations, restraining the financial community to correct abuses, rationing of gas, the Great Depression, "free enterprise," "socialism," and "Marxism." These zealous scholars of conjecture would like us to believe that the Market System of today creates a society that promotes individual initiatives and freedom of striking for gold or grabbing for the gusto or the gold ring. Then there are the well-trained intellectuals of a rich academic heredity who are managing the marketplace with ardent confidence and dedicated energy for the "good of the market." To these sellers of stocks, bonds, real estate, and futures, they are pushed by their lust for the gain, which is their legal reward of "hard work." But is this cute phrase merely a sound bite that has lost most of its value or a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth?

As we read about frequently, there are those who abuse the system, who misrepresent their products and their actions in order to make more gold. Unfortunately, there is no leader in Corporate America or in government that acknowledges the recognition that deception has an undoubtedly important role in selling to the general public or consumer.

Law enforcement and the judicial systems have a term for acts of deception: fraud. But few members of the corporate offices serve much time in federal prison for such acts. (Enron Corporation was an exception, and not all were prosecuted or sent to prison.) However, the private enterprise corporations are filling the prisons and detention centers of Corporate America while draining the tax dollars from the government. These corporations are legal and are formed to provide services for the government "cheaper."

Many would refer to their services and behavior as "economics of innocent fraud" (Galbraith, 2004). The government agencies legally privatize their services by contracting them out to corporations such as Halliburton (oil, trucking, and military services), GEO (prisons and detention centers), NEC (electronics, education, etc.), Kiewit (border fence construction), and General Dynamics (military services, intelligence, and transportation).

As the buyer drives the demand curve, the economist will point to the power of the consumer. Such is the example of an innocent fraud. Those in power will claim that the consumer has the power of choice, but the consumer's choice may not be his/her first or even second choice.

What really pushes the demand curve, as all marketers will attest to, is the marketing plan and the well-financed advertising. Political campaign managers use this system to push the demand curve in elections. In political campaigns, as in economics, the need for a strategy of mass persuasion using different mechanisms and vehicles of presentation to consumers is vital for the sale of a concept, a product, and a candidate. Shaping the response to market campaigns is the same as shaping the response to political campaigns. Sometimes these campaigns are not about selling a product or the election of a politician. It can be about the sale of a concept, such as the "war on drugs," the "war on terrorism," the justification of invading Iraq, and the selling of health care as an overpriced industry.


Words do make a difference in our lives, so it is important to be as precise as possible in our exchanges. People can easily get confused, misguided, and upset by words and irrational thoughts and unattainable expectations.

Every day we use so many words that we often speak before formulating the words that can be more effective and closer to describing the pictures we are attempting to draw in the head of another person or to a group. Psychotherapists learn that relationships grow in a trusting environment because there is a mutually dependent attachment. Organizations have attempted to learn from this by spending millions to create a climate of mutual support and trust. Effective communication is a byproduct of a healthy organizational climate. Malice, back-stabbing, public confrontations, rumors, and a climate of competition within the office tend to sabotage a healthy communication climate. Various theories of management have been created to support such a healthy climate. Peter Drucker (2001) wrote about management of resources (supplies, equipment, hardware, software, vendors, personnel, etc.). He was a strong leader who promoted the training and health of employees more than building up huge bank accounts and offshore cash hideaways. Today's leaders have public relation experts handling their conversations to the public and assisting them on forming memos and policies that make the company look good rather than using terms that employees and consumers might interpret differently, albeit more realistically.

Perception and Meanings

Words are not killers or weapons of mass destruction; meanings are! And meanings are in people. Meanings are created through the perception of the beholder. Remember when you were little and you walked outdoors and looked around? If you went back to the same house, in the same community, would you expect that your memory would change if you now saw things differently? No. You would have new memories just like the cartoon from years ago that had a father and son standing in snow on their sidewalk. The father turned to the son and said, "When I was your age, the snow was clear up to my neck." As you look at the two, the father is now about 6 feet tall, and the little boy looks about 4 years old and the snow is up to his neck.

Some would argue that we never really come into direct contact with reality because our reality is a product of the interaction between our experiences and our nervous system. When this interaction occurs, there is another element that contributes to our acknowledgement of "reality" or "truth." Motivation is what drives a thought to a behavior. Behavior is caused by a number of things, such as our desire to change a feeling, a behavior in someone else, or to make more money. Behavior is directed by our priorities and is motivated by how strongly we feel about our goals, our needs, our ideas.

When working with my patients, I try to be conscious of what is motivating them to keep their symptoms of pain, frustration, fear, or/and panic. By reducing that motivation and replacing it with a new energy for a new direction or behavior, we take the wind out of their anger, their fears, and suggest new courses or pathways that can help them reach their goals.

Conflict normally doesn't just walk up to you and slap you in the face. Though it can happen like that, normally it creeps up. There is usually time to see it coming and to make a conscious decision to move out of the way. What might interfere with your decision might be a problem with encoding. If we live in isolation, we miss opportunities that are available to others who seek out group work, are living in a larger community, attending church, are being active in the school's PTA, or are joining a local community service agency. The more experiences we have, the more prepared we are for a situation that might present itself at a most unexpected moment.


Drucker, E F. (2001). The essential Drucker. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Galbraith, J. K. (2004). The economics of innocent fraud: Truth for our time. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Ronald Hixson, PhD, BCPC, MBA, LPC, LMFT, DAPA, has been a therapist for more than 25 years. He has a Texas corporation private practice and has founded a non-profit group mental health organization where he serves as President/Executive Director. He has a PhD in Health Administration from Kennedy-Western University, an MBA from Webster University, and graduate degrees from the University of Northern Colorado and the University of California (Sacramento).
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