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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Are we the stewards of others' feelings?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) January 20th, 2014

I stole the wording of the question’s title from another user. I hope she doesn’t mind the plagiarism.

I am feeling my way through this question, so please, bear with me. This may take a bit, or it may turn out to be brief.

In the adventure I call my life, I have had many upsets in the last 8 or 9 months. I’ve had a number of endings that have been painful. Simultaneously, I’ve had some wonderful experiences that have opened doors for me, which have been both unexpected and marvelous.

It has been a period of transitions. I had a wretched time when I was attacked and accused of overstepping my authority in a community event I had a position of fiduciary responsibility in. The attack left me feeling very low indeed. All responsible parties met, and we ironed out the differences. Still, the low continued.

In another professional setting, a group member who fell under my direction complained to me about my work. I thanked him for his honesty and owned my part in the situation, apologizing. I felt very bad I had caused him to be ill at ease.

Finally, I learned through a third party that I was no longer friends with someone whom I’d counted as a good friend. That hurt. I lost a friend, and I found out through the grapevine. After discussing it with a wise person, I came to realize if I get a chance to discuss the matter with the former good friend, I have to limit my words to “That hurt.” I can’t explain further, because I would then be making statements to put the former good friend on the defensive.

I have just shared some very personal matters not to look for solutions for those specific instances, but perhaps to shed light on something I do not truly understand.

How far does any individual’s power to hurt go?

When speaking, where does the speaker’s responsibility for the words stop, and where does the listener’s responsibility for interpreting them begin?

Using my recent list of losses as an example, I don’t believe I am responsible for hurtful words and actions projected at me. I am not responsible for the emotions that occurred either. Emotions happen. They just are.

I am responsible for what I do with those emotions. I am also responsible for how long I hold on to them, too.

How concerned should each person be about the effect their words and actions will have on others?

(Lest anyone be afraid my life has been a series of abjectly sorrowful losses for the past 8 or 9 months, let me assure them such is not the case. I have completed an important job training, and I am applying for a dream job. My future is very bright.)

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13 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

Give as much concern that you would want yourself in a similar situation.

kevbo's avatar

I’m saying this in all earnestness and in illustrative language. You and the people involved are actors who believe you are the characters. Do the character’s words and actions hurt the actor? Does the actor go home and ruminate on the jerky characters in his life? Let the character dissolve by letting go of the false belief that the character is you, and the actor will emerge.

josie's avatar

It would be shitty to wind up alone without friends.

Thus there is, in most cases, a motivation for measuring our words. It is easy to chase people away. You have to be a little more considerate if you want them to stay.

SwanSwanHummingbird's avatar

Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own feelings, PERIOD. However, saying what you really think and feel at all times can make others feel like you are making them sad, angry, whatever. Some people will just never own their own feelings. In a work situation this can get tricky, but in your personal life do you really want friends who blame you for their feelings?

Seek's avatar

I do not mind the plagiarism.

I’m not the best person to answer this question, but I’ll do my best.

I agree with you that emotions simply are. Things affect you. However, after a lifetime of being alternately bullied and abused, I’ve decided one thing:

Bullying and abuse differs from simple insult in one important regard: A method of escape.

Schoolyard bullies are a serious problem because in most cases, the child being bullied cannot choose to leave the situation. They can only inform adults in charge, who have little power to make the situation better, and often that action makes the bullying worse.

Abusive relationships are invariably situations in which the abuser and abused are not equal in power. The abused is either prevented from escaping, or psychologically convinced leaving would be detrimental to them, more so than staying.

If a situation brings negative feelings toward a person, that person has a responsibility to make the decision to either avoid that situation or attempt to work through those feelings.

This is my opinion, and I know what that is worth.

drhat77's avatar

you have obviously given this a lot of thought. Whatever approach you choose next seems like it will be well thought out, which is probably the only thing that matters in this situation. It is tough, though. There is unlikely to be a solution where everybody daces off arm in arm down the yellow brick road, but since you have taken the time to write it all out, whatever you end up doing will probably be the best given a bad situation.

Smitha's avatar

I personally feel others can never make us feel anything, but their behavior certainly can impact us. Whatever action or words they use brings up emotions, and they will never be the same for us.
We must be aware that sometimes our own behaviors are often the major influencers for the judgments we make about other people. So before judging others we must try to do a little self-evaluation and figure out if we are letting our own behavior and words affect our feelings for other people.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I think we are to a degree. All we can do is be the best we can be & think before speaking. Saying sorry helps too.

LostInParadise's avatar

Like so much in life, it is a matter of creating a balance. Knowingly or unknowingly,we create in our minds a model of how people will react to what we do. To a great extent, that model is based on ourselves, who we know better than anyone else. The Golden Rule is something that we use instinctively. Based on how you perceive others, you try to accomplish as much as you can while causing as little offense as possible. Where to draw the line is part of the ongoing adventure of our lives. All we can do is to try our best, making the best compromise between our interests and those of others, and then to learn from our mistakes.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Jake, you ask a couple of related questions:

- can we affect other peoples’ lives?

Yes, in everything we do, someone (besides ourselves) is affected. It’s the nature of things. Mostly these are benign effects, but occasionally, particularly at the time of stress and emotion, our actions affect others deeply.

- do we have responsibility (to the other) when our actions affect their lives? (this is what you’re really asking)

My answer is: minimal. The only real control that I have is over MYSELF. Other people have their own sensitivities, emotions, opinions, backgrounds. I can’t, and shouldn’t, have to modulate myself to fit their sensitivities. For one thing, it’s virtually impossible—in a group, it’s totally impossible to juggle all the different hot buttons of all the people involved.

My view is that while I (based on my own standards) don’t go out of my way to hurt someone by words or actions, I also don’t ‘censor’ myself (broadly defined) to avoid all pain and angst to others, Because by doing so, I am losing my identity.

janbb's avatar

Not counting my Ex, I’ve had two close family members call it quits with me in the last few months. In one case I knew what had upset him but still felt I had to honor my feelings. When I tried to explain them, he said I was just continuing to justify myself (he wanted me to see things his way) and he walked out. He seems to be quietly edging his way back but it was a deep hurt on both sides. With the other person, I can only posit what is going on and have to wait until they relent. Both situations have hurt me a lot but I can’t beat myself up too much for them.

And a new friend that I love and rely on is showing some of his misheggas and that is hard to take too. But in all of these situations, I’m not sure what I can do besides trying not to beat myself up too much and keep getting from the others I love..

thorninmud's avatar

Feelings matter, but they’re often not the most important consideration. I’d rather say that we’re all better off when we look after each others’ well-being. And I would further qualify that by saying that there’s not always a direct connection between transitory feelings and well-being. We’re often in the difficult position of doing or saying something that we know will create painful feelings in the near term, but we do it anyway in the hope of forestalling even greater pain down the road.

There’s also the difficult matter of weighing community well-being against the feelings of an individual. That’s a problem we mods come up against pretty regularly. No one is well-served, really, when toxic situations are perpetuated just to spare someone’s feelings.

Thankfully, there are plenty of times when it’s win-win: you can do something that makes someone feel good, you get that lovely reciprocal glow in return, and everyone’s better off for it.

The complexities of the moral landscape here are such that simple policies are worthless. To say that the feelings of others is their problem misses the mark. To say that optimizing the feelings of those we deal with is the important thing also misses the mark. Instead, we’re stuck with our imperfect faculties to try to untangle each situation, with no guarantee of success.

All that said, there is a lot one can do in terms of facing one’s own feelings and mitigating the suffering they cause. There may even be a good case for not mollycoddling someone’s feelings if it’s done with a view to getting them to develop skill at managing their feelings.

hearkat's avatar

In a civilized society, we would live by the ‘golden rule’ and treat others with respect, compassion and consideration – as we would hope to be treated. We would like others to be mindful of the ways their words and actions might affect us, and so it behooves us to extend the same courtesy to others.

However, this is the real world, and large portions of the population in our culture are self-absorbed and seemingly incapable of empathy. Similarly, many people are unbalanced for one reason or another, and may be sensitive in ways that no one really understands, least of all those who encounter them casually. For example, I was with a friend of mine and there was a little girl and her mother there. My friend commented about an item of the child’s being “well-loved” and the mother took offense to that. My friend meant it very sincerely, knowing how kids especially get attached and have ‘favorite’ things that they won’t part with; but the mother assumed she was being condescending that the girl’s things were tattered or unkempt. This makes it extremely challenging to navigate through society as if walking on eggshells and having to censor every word and action so as not to be offensive.

As with so many of life’s conundrums, the solution is to find a balance. To try to be mindful and aware of other people to try to get a sense of who they are without making assumptions and stereotyping, yet to always be genuine and sincere.

On the other side of the same coin, should we expect others to be stewards of our feelings? Again, it is something that we would like to have in polite society, but it is not realistic to do so for the same reasons noted aboove. We can not control anyone but ourselves, and so it is unrealistic to place any expectations on anyone. This brings me back to the concept of personal integrity as mentioned in your other post. We need to focus on our own evolution to become the types of people we want to have in our lives. It is up to us to strengthen our self-identity until we know that it is resilient and will remain intact despite the events of the world around us.

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