Thinking Out Loud

Is It Okay To Hurt Other People?

Is it okay to hurt others? No, not to deliberately be mean and to intentionally cause hurt but sometimes it is necessary to bring up a topic or issue that we know may hurt or upset the other person. And because we know that person’s feelings may get hurt, we are reluctant to begin a conversation where that is likely to occur.

Beginning such a conversation takes careful, mindful thought and planning. We need to consider the what, why, where, when, and how. We need to question and thoroughly understand our own motivation and goal because if we realize we’re angry and want to get back at the other person, belittle them, put them in their place, etc. then we need to back away. Those are not good reasons to initiate the conversation—and it is more likely not a conversation that we are seeking but a rant “to set someone straight.”

Yet if it is a time when although we know the person will be hurt by what we have to say, we also know it is the right thing to do. We must first painstakingly look at the situation from every angle we can, put ourselves in the other’s shoes, understand what is at stake for both individuals, use language that doesn’t characterize the other person, make sure our facts are accurate, separate facts, opinions, beliefs, and feelings. Then we must examine the meaning we are giving to the situation, recognizing that what we perceive as the meaning might not be the meaning intended by the other individual, which means we may have questions we need to have answered to understand the other person’s intent.

Yes, this does sound tedious, complex, and difficult because it is. And there is no other way for it be if we are sincere in addressing a matter of importance, where someone is likely to feel hurt. Often talking through the situation with someone who is trustworthy and objective is helpful too, since it can settle our head and thoughts if we are emotionally wound up and not as clear-headed as we would like to be while we analyze and plan.

Life is difficult and navigating relationships of all kinds takes mindfulness and courage. We have our best chance at causing the least hurt to others if we take stock of our motivation and goals, knowing what’s truly important. Is it about self-respect or others being hurt or a mistake that will cost our company a lot of money? Is it about needing to be right, seeking power, or getting back at someone?

If our intentions are good, we have a constructive goal we’re trying to achieve, we speak respectfully, and have some empathy, then we get the green light. Although the outcome may not be what we expected or hoped for, we want to come through knowing we did the right thing for the right reasons without damaging the relationship. And if the outcome of a difficult conversation is an agreement to talk again, then we’ve been successful.

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