not wanting to hurt people

here’s something I’ve recently realised about us humans:

sometimes we have a desire to avoid hurting others but it’s not for pure altruistic reasons – it’s because it would be highly inconvenient for us, it would put us in an awkward situation, it would paint us in a bad light, it might lose us friends, it might even dent our ego because we like to think of ourselves as basically decent human beings.

so we hurt someone’s feelings and instead of being focused on that person’s hurt feelings we’re focused on the effects this situation has on us: oh dear, my friend is cross with me and I don’t know how to fix this; oh dear, my wife is upset with me and I’m sleeping on the couch again – it’s all “poor me” and not “poor them”. poor me, I’ve lost a friend with my big mouth. poor me, I don’t know why this person is yelling at me/not speaking to me. poor me, I was really looking forward to us going to that party together and now the evening is ruined. poor me, I don’t like feeling that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. it’s not a nice feeling. it kills my smug self-righteousness and that makes me seriously uncomfortable.

this kind of reminds me of my driving instructor’s standing joke when I was taking driving lessons, along the lines of: mind that car/pedestrian/cyclist – just think of all those tedious insurance forms to fill in.

he was totally joking, he was a softy and I know he’d have been deeply upset if anything happened to anyone. but I just feel that joke exposes an element of truth about the way we humans think. running someone over would be seriously upsetting, and I so so so very much hope to never experience that, but I don’t really know how much of my upset would be out of sympathy for the person who was hurt, and how much would be because: me! look at me! I feel terrible!

I was thinking about this in the context of a conversation about how I find it difficult this time of year to find the balance: on the one hand being honest and truthful [about my negative and unconventional views of Christmas], but on the other hand not wanting to hurt people’s feelings more than necessary. And I sort of heard myself, and thought: wow, it’s all about you, isn’t it? even the not wanting to hurt people’s feelings, which sounds so good and caring, is still all about my own discomfort.

Well, mainly about me – not totally. It’s not that I don’t care when someone is upset. It’s just that I’m suddenly painfully aware that it’s not just about them, I’m suddenly aware that when I realise I’ve upset someone, the way I feel is not just because of how they feel but also because of the implications for me – the inconvenience, the discomfort, the paperwork as my driving instructor would say.

and I wonder if that’s part of why we sometimes react the way we do when someone is offended by something we didn’t mean as an offence – all those times when people say: stop being so sensitive; you shouldn’t take it so personally; you’re making a mountain out of nothing; why can’t you see it was just a joke; etc etc… because when someone is offended by something we said, it can feel like an accusation against us, and we don’t like that feeling. we all want to think of ourselves as basically decent human beings. how dare you call me racist (for example) – I’m not, so you shouldn’t take my joke as offensive against your race. you should know I’m not like that…

I once confronted someone about an anti-Jewish joke he made. I was extremely upset by that joke. His reaction: but I love the Jews, I was only teasing, the way you tease friends! To him that was obvious – to me, as someone hearing him speak and not knowing anything about his attitude towards us, it was extremely hurtful.

So where am I going with this? I think that in human interaction there are bound to be times when we say something that unintentionally hurts someone else’s feelings. And the loving reaction would be to say “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you” and to try and learn from this if we can. But often we’re so tangled up in our own upset at being accused, that we lash out in accusations: you’re oversensitive, you’re overreacting, you should know I’m not like that… because we want to keep thinking “I’m not like that”.

end of rambling.

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