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Stewarding Sticks and Stones: The Science Behind Our Words

It’s funny how the rhymes and chants of childhood can stick with us over the years. Some chants were used for very serious decision making on the playground:

Eenie meenie miney moe,

Catch a tiger by the toe.

If he hollers let him go.

Eenie meenie miney moe!

Some were nonsensical and a nuisance. Remember this one?

Step on a crack! And break your mother’s back!

Um, what?! Seriously now. Why.

And yet other childhood chants are valiant efforts of brushing off verbal wounds:

Sticks and stones may break my bones,

But words will never hurt me!


Many of us grew up hearing that mantra. And unfortunately it is one of the largest lies on the planet.

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While normally my blog posts are filled with advice on being a better steward in the kitchen, today I’d like to address a commodity that each of us use every single day. Many don’t consider this commodity stewardship-worthy since it costs us nothing.

What is this commodity? Words.

I’m not here to pontificate about social media, comment-feeding-frenzies, or chat room trolling. Katie has already written a little about social media, blogging, and engaging in the Mommy Wars. If you missed that post, it is quite freeing to read.

So, back to that little childhood rhyme. Could words actually have the power to break our bones?

A Little Look Into Some Unusual Science

Around twenty years ago a doctor in Japan began doing some interesting work studying water. Essentially, he and his team took water droplets in a near-frozen state and spoke words over them.

As the water turned from liquid to solid, the water crystals began to take on specific shapes and patterns based on what was being said over the water. Positive words yielded orderly, shapely crystals. Negative words yielded explosions and implosions of design.

For example, the word “love” yielded a perfect 6-pointed snowflake-like crystal with lace-like design. The phrase “You make me sick; I will kill you” yielded a leprous, roiling bubble.

Due to copyright and permissions, I can’t show the images here on the post. But you can see the water crystal snapshots in another window. (Go ahead – take a look. Just make sure you come back here!)

Of course, there are some in the science community who consider Dr. Emoto and his work to be wacked science, or that his methods were flawed. Whether you believe in the scientific legitimacy of his work or not, you have to admit it’s intriguing.

Before you roll your eyes and move on, consider this blog post by a mom who did a simple experiment with rice and water absorption over the span of 11 days in her own home. She filled three jars with rice and water and set them on her kitchen counter, 18 inches apart. Over the next 11 days, one jar was going to be neglected, one would only have positive words spoken to it, and one jar would have only negative words spoken to it.

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Despite beginning with identical contents, after 11 days the jars were noticeably distinct.

  • The neglected rice didn’t absorb the water. Instead, the water stayed on top and turned cloudy.
  • The rice that received negative words absorbed the water but the rice discolored from the top down, turning a nasty black-grey. The remaining water looked spoiled.
  • The rice that received positive words for the 11 days stayed clean and white. It absorbed water, and the remaining water was clear.


Well, that certainly gives me pause.

The Bible has informed us for thousands of years that words carry power.

  • According to Genesis, God spoke the world into being.
  • Proverbs tells us that the tongue (ie – the words that come off it) has the power to bring death or life
  • And that a cheerful heart can heal like medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
  • The New Testament even refers to Jesus as the Word of God.

It’s with our words that we can tear a person down or choose to build them up.

Which brings me back to the beginning … why would this childhood rhyme boast that words can never hurt us? Is it simply wishful thinking? Wouldn’t it be better to spread the message:

Words can hurt. But they can also heal.
Stewarding Sticks & Stones: The Science Behind Words. Does what others say (or what we say to ourselves) truly harm and heal?-130

Speaking Words of Life … or Death

Hopefully every single one of us has experienced the wonderful feeling of words of life spoken over us. Whether it’s a compliment, praise, or an encouraging word, it fills us with the energy and joy to press on… something to aspire to. Perhaps even a future hope.

Just a few weeks ago, there was an incredible post shared on the Kitchen Stewardship® Facebook page. It was about the story of a young woman born without legs – and how words helped shape her into who she is. (Normally I ignore videos on the internet, but I promise this one is worth watching. And I guarantee you’ll be blown away when you see it — especially the surprise ending.)

This was a woman who was empowered by the words: never say can’t.

And then, there are words of death.

The rise of anti-bullying campaigns proves that words of death can truly hurt.

Hopefully none of us are engaging in bullying behaviors with strangers or friends. But when it comes to our own close family circle, we are often blind to the power of our own negative words.

I’ve been challenged in my parenting journey to examine the words I speak over my children.

I make an intentional point to never refer to them as “monsters” or “such a pain” — even in joking.

But when the kids wreck the house in 3.4 seconds flat and I’m frazzled, I mutter under my breath, “I’m gonna kill ’em.” You would think I would remember how the water crystals shriveled when those exact words of death were spoken. I’m ashamed I would ever say such things, especially since I would never lay a hand of anger on my children!

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I’m learning – sometimes the hard way – to evaluate what words and self-fulfilling prophecies I recite over them. This has proved especially true when it comes to long-term issues like bed-wetting. I know my children have overheard me vent frustration about their inability to stay dry on the phone. “Ugh, wet again today. They’re never going to keep dry!”

Those always and nevers slip off my tongue so easily… but do I really want them to be true?

Imagine the difference of hope I could plant in my child’s heart if I expressed: “I know you were wet today. But I know you’ll be able to stay dry soon.”

I’ve heard it said that if you make a list of the things you want to avoid, you will invariably end up doing everything on that list.

Imagine a coach telling his star athlete the four ways he messed up a play. When that player takes the field again, should we really be surprised if he repeats the same mistake? All he’s focusing on in his mind are the four things he shouldn’t be doing again, while coping with his frustration of failure.

But what if that coach switched his words to the affirmative – Hey, I know that wasn’t your best effort. When you get back out there, wait to pass… Suddenly these words of life go so much farther in moving the athlete in the right direction.

Words And Our Own Selves

Can I confess? It’s easy for me to recite words of death over my own self — words I would never dream of saying to another human being.

  • I’m too flabby.
  • I’m always going to be stuck with these extra ten pounds.
  • I’m never going to regain the health and vigor of my early twenties. That ship has sailed.
  • It’s impossible for me to have self-control with eating.
  • I have ugly cellulite. I hate my legs.

 In my post last month on dry brushing, I detailed how body brushing helped me become comfortable in my own skin. It began to change my view of my body. I’m keenly aware of how often I had negatively viewed myself — even if I was only joking.

While composing that post, I mused on a mom-focused forum how easy my perceptions of my own body were subtly informed by movies, TV shows, and commercials. In order to help foster transparency (and debunk Hollywood myths), I asked women to share pictures of their bellies.

(Let’s just be honest. The tummy area is a trouble spot for many.)

What happened next was astounding.

The post exploded in popularity. Women began sharing non-photoshopped selfies of their own stomachs to stand in solidarity with one another. Some found it hard and humbling to share, but many found joy and relief – recognizing that stretch marks, lumps, and wrinkles didn’t have to be ugly curses but were beautiful testament of motherhood.

As picture after picture scrolled, even the language of those posting in the group began to change – going from regretful and ashamed to proud and celebrating with one another. I asked their permission to share some of these photos with you.

Stewarding Sticks & Stones: The Science Behind Words. Does what others say (or what we say to ourselves) truly harm and heal?

I know, I know. It seems a little odd to be talking about stomachs on a site dedicated to kitchens. 🙂 But I think it all comes back to a core issue. Whether we realize it or not, we are stewards of both our bodies and our words.

In a digital age where our words are being recorded for generations to come, it’s not a bad idea to ask ourselves the question: are we really being wise and thoughtful stewards?

5 Baby-Steps To Consider

It can be a challenge to form new habits. But here are five baby steps for your consideration:

  1. Make a list of the words of life you want to express daily to friends and family. This may take the form of a true compliment or simply making the conscious effort to say “I love you” five different ways that day.
  2. Consider reading a new book on parenting to give you a jumpstart out of a rut. NY Times Best-Seller Kevin Leman’s Have A New Kid By Friday is chock-full of practical ideas (and it’s a super fun read).
  3. Check out Celebrate Calm – an incredible organization that gives tangible ways to speak words of life. Sign up for their free newsletter or check out out their Facebook page for awesome advice and encouragement. Their material is applicable to all relationships – including spouses, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers.
  4. Write down all of your negative self-talk about your personality, inabilities, and physique. For each negative item (I have no self-control with sugar), write two positives about yourself beside it to counteract it (I eat lots of vegetables, I have the power to say no). Cross out the negative self-talk. Keep this list visible and refer to it often.
  5. Did you catch this Facebook post from Kitchen Stewardship® this month? Check out this amazing video how words inspired this young woman who was born without legs.
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Has this post inspired or challenged you to view your words differently? How have words of life (or words of death) impacted you in your journey? Tell us in the comments below!

Images used with permission from This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

3 thoughts on “Stewarding Sticks and Stones: The Science Behind Our Words”

  1. Charles Nankin

    Dr Caroline Leaf says that our brains are wired to function on love

  2. I believe in striving to focus on the good in all others (though often aware of the negative)…….AND to hold up the good to others with kind encouragement and true care. I have seen a close family member make HUGE changes as God has guided me to focus on/encourage this person’s good/potential……….for we all have good and potential. Meanwhile, this person would often tell me what was wrong with me, and I’d ignore giving a negative response, remind them that in my home we strive to live the Gospel of Christ and live in kindness to one another. Recently, in moving and packing, when I was exhausted, I could not ‘take’ this person’s unkind words of what is wrong with me just because they didn’t like having to help. I reminded this person that all of us are aware of our ‘beams’ and faults and I didn’t need to be told in their words……but I really blew up (and I have a long fuse). Words can be harmful. Let us strive to build up not tear down. Let us strive to focus on the good in others (including ourselves)………it’s such a better/happier way to live.

    HALT: never get too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, too Tired.

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