I’m thinking today about this old adage which used to be chanted by children in the playground:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones

but words will never hurt me.”

I know differently now, of course – unkind words can really hurt a person.

And, by the same token, that a kind word or two can be really healing, too.

Only a week or so ago I was watching a repeat episode of ‘Heartbeat’ (a police drama set in the UK in the 1960s) – I really love the music as it takes me back to my childhood – good old nostalgia!

Bobby’s Girl came on and I started singing along (it has a really catchy tune) but then I realised what I was actually saying:

“When people ask of me
what would you like to be,
now that you’re not a kid any more?
I know just what to say,
I answer right a away.
There’s just one thing
I’ve been wishing for.
I wanna be Bobby’s girl,
I wanna be Bobby’s girl.
That’s the most important thing to me.
And if I was Bobby’s girl;
if I was Bobby’s girl,
what a faithful, thankful girl I’d be.
Each night I sit at home
hoping that he will phone,
but I know Bobby has someone else.
Still in my heart I pray,
there soon will come a day…”

OMG – “what a faithful, thankful girl I’d be”…

I shuddered – this had overtones of suppression and compliance, and narrow expectations of life: “what would you like to be, now that you’re not a kid any more?”.

I know this is just a song, it was a product of its time, and the world has moved on considerably since then – in some respects.

And it’s about romantic love which is anything but rational – but it’s the subtle drip-feeding that bothers me these days.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been drip-fed the ‘naughty or nice’ message which tells children that they will get presents from Santa (and/or their parents?) – but only if they’ve been ‘good’. ie, rewarding good behaviour.

But who defines what that ‘good behaviour” looks like – and which of us is good all the time?

I know I’m not!

And, really, it’s not an absolute – I’ve yet to meet someone who’s wholly good or bad. Instead, we are people who do things – some of which we (and others) judge as good, and some which are judged as bad. But that’s situational and contextual, too – and intention and outcome don’t always match up, either – sometimes what we intended isn’t what happens.

In my work I talk to a lot of people who’ve been ‘socialised’ as children into thinking that certain ways of behaving are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’. Some of these are healthy and helpful, but others aren’t.

For example, if we’ve been told as a child that “it’s not nice to show off” and we’ve swallowed this message whole without thinking about it, it can really get in the way later in life when we try to perform well in a job interview and we struggle to identify and articulate what we’re good at.

And sometimes we interpret all this as meaning that other people will only love us if we are well-behaved all the time – they won’t love our ‘bad bits’. So we suppress or hide that part of us from other people, only letting them see a ‘sanitised’ version of ourselves (the filtered Facebook/Instagram version, if you will) and keep the ‘real me’ private and under cover.

We develop, as some theories call them, ‘conditions of worth’‘injunctions’ and ‘drivers.

Which means that some of us end up working so hard at pleasing others all the time, that eventually we completely lose sight of what pleases us.

I remember what one of my NLP trainers said about this: that when someone likes or loves us, it’s the overall ‘cocktail’ that they embrace – the overall ‘flavour’ of us created by all of the ingredients – all that we are and that we bring, light and shade.

And I think we do need to separate out, too, who we are from what we do. We can change our behaviour – if we want to.

I also think about all the misunderstood children – the ones who are/were deemed naughty just because they are/were misunderstood.

Maybe they’re wired a bit differently – those who have been (or are yet to be) assessed for autism, for example.

Or the really clever kid who is just bored to tears at school – or who perhaps has ADHD.

Or the introvert who finds a world largely built around the needs and wants of extraverts hard to navigate.

Stephen Covey, in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People‘ (from 1989 and one of the classics that I still refer to in my work and my personal life) said, as Habit #5:

“Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”

In my experience, if we can remember this from time to time it can serve us very well indeed.