Nearly all of us are taught to “be nice.” Sometimes we are given some guidance on what “being nice” means such as, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” More often it is an amorphous and generalized incitement not to hurt people. But we need to hurt people. We can’t live without hurting people. We hurt and are hurt regularly, and must do so. Most often hurting is about setting boundaries that prioritize oneself or another over someone else. The boy who was in love with me in second grade, and declared so to me, I had to hurt. I did not love him, even in a second grade way, and that had to pain him.
The necessary hurt that is caused by setting boundaries seems to come relatively intuitively to some, but often not to me. Until we're dead, or very near to it, and I do mean that quite literally, there is always more we could be doing for someone other than ourselves. Where, short of death, do we choose to say, "This I do and no more"? Do I stay up another hour to help a friend feel better or do I prioritize getting sleep when I’m utterly exhausted? I gave $100 for the Haiti relief effort, but then I went out for a $20 dinner. Should I have skipped the dinner and sent $120? Should I live a less expensive life in general and give every cent not for my bare survival to those who will otherwise not survive at all?
To be genuinely kind, we have to understand and take responsibility for our hurting. In explaining to me why he didn't call and explain to a woman he had been dating that he no longer wanted to see her, an acquaintance told me, "I don't like to hurt people." And I thought, "No, you just don't like to be there when it happens." Refusing to be conscious that we hurt, just leaves us more open to being jerks: ostriches with our heads in the sands of faux kindness.
We need to be taught, overtly and carefully, when and how to hurt people. Not how to be mean, not how to hurt unnecessarily, but, when it is appropriate and necessary, to handle the hurting of someone as humanely and healthily as possible for all concerned.