Hurting Others: Can we really avoid hurting other persons?

web of relationship

I often meet caring persons who hold themselves back from living forward, because they are concerned about hurting someone. While their concerns are admirable, perhaps they jeopardize their authenticity due to a fear that is unwarranted.

Consider these examples. A person feels stuck in a relationship which has grown dead, but he stays in the relationship, because he fears his leaving may crush his partner.

Another person grows tired of her ceaseless partying. Something inside her calls her to a life deeper than partying. But when her friends call to invite her out for another night on the town, she accepts. Why? “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

Someone else feels a building anger towards her partner. But will she share her anger with her partner in a constructive move towards reconciliation? “No, I don’t want to hurt him.”

The hurt about which I write is not the hurt resultng from abuse, violence, or the intentional harming another person. Of course these are to be shunned.

But what about the more commonplace hurts which we fear we cause another to feel? Or the hurts we feel others have caused us? Is it possible to be alive amid our webs of relationships without now and then unintentionally hurting others? Or being hurt unintentionally? Let’s look more closely.

Long ago when I was struggling personally with this very issue of hurting others, I had this dream. There was a beautiful pond with water so still that the sky was mirrored perfectly in the pond’s surface. In the middle of the pond serenely floated a lily pad upon which the smallest of mammals, a shrew, was running frantically from edge to edge.

The shrew was anxious to get to the shore. After running about, the shrew finally leaped into the water. With the leap, ripples began to spread out across the once-calm pond surface. A voice then said, “Even the smallest of beings cannot help but shake worlds.”

A web of relationship inextricably binds us to others. Still within the web we are individuals whose differing goals, thoughts, feelings, etc. cannot help but come in conflict with others at one time or another. Pull on one strand of a spider web, and the whole web vibrates.

Moreover, when we do inevitably come into conflict with each other, often we say and hear said to us, “You hurt me.” But is that true?

Yes, something was said or done. Yes, someone felt hurt by what was said or done. Yet what was said or done did not cause the hurt feeling. That’s improper psychological grammar.

For example, when you see a bald eagle soaring in the sky, your heart may soar at the sight. But did the eagle cause your feeling? The eagle’s soaring is simply eagle-soaring, empty entirely of any personal feeling or meaning. The meaning and feelings you experience are brought to the experience by you; they are based upon your personal history and social conditioning.

So too with the hurts we feel. When the web of life yanks us, we’ll respond according to our conditioning and psychological maturation. Our history and conditioning may predispose us to react a certain way. Our maturity may grace us with the freedom of instead choosing how we will react. How we respond to the yank is our responsibility.


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An Authenticity Quote:

Another trend which is evident in this process of becoming a person relates to the source or locus of choices and decisions, or evaluative judgments. The individual increasingly comes to feel that his locus of evaluation lies within himself. Less and less does he look to others for approval or disapproval; for standards to live by; for decisions and choices. — Carl Rogers (1902-1987), in “On Becoming a Person”