Monday, May 14, 2007

Hurting Other People

I have never felt that I had the ability to hurt other people.

Of course, if I am deliberately trying to hurt someone; if I'm screaming or yelling or angry, that is one thing. And if I very unintentionally hurt someone by blurting something out or saying something without realizing how cruel it is, that's something else as well.

I'm talking about hurting someone with words, with remarks, I suppose. I simply don't feel that I have the ability to hurt people.

And here's why: I see people's reactions as dependant upon their respect for the person or party involved. If a lunatic came up to you in the street and shouted, "You're insane!" you wouldn't pay much mind to their opinion. Therefore, if someone asserts something or states something that is utterly ludicrous about you, it logically follows that you wouldn't be hurt- because you would dismiss that person's opinion. It just wouldn't matter to you- because you don't respect them.

I don't know precisely why it is, but I feel as though people dismiss or would dismiss my opinion if it didn't jibe with their own image of themselves. Now, I have a very healthy ego and my self-esteem is fine, so this isn't something that reflects on me as a person. I just don't think that people would see my opinion as bearing so much weight; I feel like it's clear that they would dismiss it if they don't like it. I'm not happy about that, per se, but I feel like that's the way it is.

Which is why it has never dawned on me that I have the ability to hurt people.

I think it may also stem from the fact that I had a bit of a victim persona in elementary school- I mean, I was the kid being teased and bullied- so I was the one being hurt. It seems logically impossible that I the victim have the power to hurt anyone else. And I think that has stuck with me because I still think that way and really feel that way. I just don't see my opinion as mattering that much to others.

Anyway, this is what I have thought for a very long time- and still do think; it's pretty hard to break the habit- except my friend pointed out that my logic isn't necessarily sound. For example, if someone you really dislike and don't respect at all voices a negative opinion about you, you're hurt- or at least you're angry-because how dare they, that piece of filth, voice a negative opinion about you? They don't have the right, is what you think or feel. You're the one who looks down on them; they have no right to look down on you.

So obviously you can be hurt by the opinion of someone you don't respect, except maybe hurt isn't the right word, and angered is.

So I am very curious: Do you believe that you have the power to hurt other people? Do you believe that your opinion matters that much?

And I suppose, in addition to that, this would be a good time for me to extend my deepest apology to anyone I have hurt or offended without ever realizing that I had the capacity to hurt you. Most people are telling me that I do have that power, and it never occurred to me- and honestly I still can't really relate to the idea- that I did or could hurt someone.


Marc Fein said...

The bigger question is whether or not you have a strong self-image. If you do, then only the remarks of people you respect will cause a dent, anything else can be viewed at best as "feedback" to be internalized, ignored, or dismissed entirely out of hand. Those with a weak self-image, however, rely upon the external validation of others and therefore even the most flippant remark by a stranger can set them off since they constructed their entire identity around how others perceive them. Since you have a healthy self-esteem in this post you project your image of how the world works unto others. However, those without the self-confidence you posses live within a reality constructed by other peoples opinions.

While we are on the topic of apologizing, my apologies for not being uptown tonight. My brothers soccer game was moved up from a later satrt time and I was on the train to the Upper East side when you called. Thanks so much for the candy basket, very classy touch. I hope you enjoyed the sugar and candy filled caf store uptown.

~ Marc Fein

Anonymous said...

"The pen is mightier than the sword" - I forget who said this but what he meant was that words have power and that power (of words)is "mightier than the sword".

I am sure you do not in your heart intend to hurt anyone but you have to realize that even lack of words has power.

Chana I would prefer that you not apologize but instead strive to love, harmony, peace and inner quiet before you set your words down or else any negativity in you heart will inadvertantly end up unknowingly in your writings and that spirit will be transmitted to all the world.

Matt said...

[WARNING: Those with low self-esteem probably shouldn't read the following.]

Mishlei 3:27-30 states:

"Do not withhold good from its rightful recipients, when you have the power to do it. Do not tell your neighbor, 'Leave and come back; tomorrow I will give it," when it is [already] by you. Do not devise evil against your neighbor, one who dwells securely near you. Do not quarrel with any man without cause, if he has done you no evil."

The main question on these pesukim is: DUH! The evil in these actions is so obvious that it seems unnecessary for King Solomon talk about them. "Man is born a wild ass" (Iyov 11:12). The yetzer ha'ra is with us from the womb, and remains in power even when our yetzer ha'tov (intellect) develops around the age of 13.

Chazal refer to the yetzer hara as "tzafun" - "the hidden one" - because much of the yetzer hara is unconscious. One of the reasons for this is, as you mentioned, that people do not want to view themselves as evil.

King Solomon's primary message in these pesukim is very simple: we ARE evil. There are times when we CAN help people, but we don't. There are times when we KNOW that there is no reason to quarrel, but we do so anyway. There are times when we withhold good from people for NO real reason.

Nevertheless, we cover it all up by: (a) doing good actions - not BECAUSE they are good, but so that we can view ourselves as "good people," and (b) rationalizing evil actions - not because we have a real reason to do so, but so that we can attribute the badness to external factors and avoid seeing ourselves as "bad people."

King Solomon urges us in these pesukim: recognize your nature. When you find yourself withholding good from someone, see through the rationalization and recognize, "I am withholding good from this person because I am a jerk. That is wrong, and I have to change my behavior."

This is a fundamental principle of teshuvah, as the Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2): "Do not allow this thought to pass through your mind which stupid gentiles and the majority of ignorant Jews say, namely, that Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu decrees on a person from birth that he will be a tzadik or a rasha. This is not true. Rather," and here is the important part, "each and every person has the ability to be a tzadik like Moshe Rabbeinu, or a Rasha like Yeravam, or wise, or foolish, or merciful, or cruel, or a miser, or a noble, and similarly all other traits."

In other words, if a person thinks he can become a tzadik, but that he is incapable of being a complete rasha, then teshuvah is impossible. Rather, every person must analyze himself or herself and recognize that he or she is capable of both good AND absolute evil.

Erachet said...

I know what you mean about feeling unable to hurt someone. I feel the same way most of the time, and for similar reasons, too. In elementary school, I was the shy, quiet, bookish, unpopular kid. I was never really bullied, but I certainly never bullied anyone else. I was more just left out, I guess.

Now that I'm older, though, I do realize that I'm not that shy little kid anymore. I mean, I'm still shy, but not as badly as before and I definitely have more confidence in myself to approach people and to speak my mind. Because of that, I also know I have the ability to hurt people.

Once in high school I got into a bad fight with a very close friend and we stopped speaking. I was in shock for a very long time because I couldn't believe this was happening to, of all people, me. ME. I was the unoffensive one, the quiet one, the nice one. I never got into real fights with people. Needless to say, it was an eye opener.

I think that without that eye opener, I would have probably stayed in my little cocoon of 'I am nice and quiet and people either like me or don't notice me but no one ever could think I'm mean or not nice' existence. But people need to realize that, even when you feel insignificant, there definitely are people listening to what you say and taking it to heart, and there are people who will love what you say or feel offended by it. Everyone has the power to hurt, whether on purpose or totally by accident.

Anonymous said...

I find this such a naive conversation. Why would you ever think you were incapable of hurting another? Part of the human condition is the abilities we all have for good and bad, I also think this is a bit odd coming from you Chana, since a number of these pieces are biting, insulting and condescending. Of course you hurt people!

Chana said...

Ah, last anonymous,

Whoever said I wasn't naive?

Mor importantly, who do I insult? Generally systems or philosophies, not people in particular.

And honestly, I don't quite feel that these systems or philosophies care what some anonymous girl has to say. I could be wrong, of course...but that's the whole reason it's frustrating and necessary for me to attack them- because they don't care anyway.

Out of curiousity, where have I been condescending? I don't generally realize when I'm condescending. Insulting and biting, maybe, but to whom did I condescend?