Coping with harsh words and criticism


Having many artistic friends (writers, musicians, actors etc.) on Facebook and Twitter I have observed that no matter how successful someone is, criticism and harsh commentary no matter how unwarranted, can really hurt the receiver beyond reason. This little story should help some people cope with the most horrendous and cutting words.


I ran a reading group for people recovering from addictions and homelessness. Each week I would give them 7/8 pieces of prose and poetry to to read for discussion the following week. The following poem always created debate, but one session will always live in my memory.


This particular week I asked members which piece they would like to start reading. David put up his hand and selected the Nervo poem. This in itself was a surprise as this was the 5th week and David had hardly said a word up until then. I asked him why he had chosen it. “Because it’s changed my life forever,” he replied. He explained how he had been set upon and violently stabbed three years earlier, which had led to problems with alcohol and being homeless.


“I’ve had endless sessions for anger management problems and nothings worked at all. I read this poem and all of a sudden everything made sense. My energies and pain had all been focused on the thorn, or in my case the knife. I realised I had to forget the thorn, the knife, the blood and most of all the hatred. I’ve stuck that poem over my bed. I’ll read each day when I get up. For the first time I can see a future for me.”


I’m welling up just writing this. No matter what people write or say – forget those worthless thorns. If David can overcome his thorns surely other people’s vicious words can be cast aside.



If a thorn wounds me, I draw back from it; Amado Nervo)


I do not hate the thorn. If, hating me


Some base hand pierces me with malice blind,


Silent I turn away, and go to find a purer air of love and charity.


Rancour? For What?


Has good e’er sprang from it?


No wound it staunches, puts no evil right.


Scarce has my rose tree time to bear its flowers;


It wastes no vital sap on thorns of spite,


And if my foe should near my rose tree pass


He shall pinch from it many a fragrant bud;


And if he sees in them a vivid red,


And tint will be the redness of my blood  –


Blood drawn by the ill will of yesterday


In hatred that it seemed could never cease,


And which the rose tree now in perfume sweet


Returns to him, changed to a flower of peace.





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