You cannot tell people how to feel. You cannot say “hey, you should feel like this” or “you must feel this way” or even say “you shouldn’t feel like this”. That is none of your goddamn business. Other people’s feelings are other people’s feelings. Telling others how to feel is an invasion, the worst kind to be sure; you are deliberately trying to penetrate someone’s mind and heart and attempting to dictate how their body chemistry should work and how their synapses should fire in their brains. That is top shelf invasion, the sort that all major religions specialize in. That is another subject for another day.
You cannot tell people how to feel, especially if you have hurt someone. Allow me to be more specific. We are human, imperfect creatures filled with flaws and qualities. Therefore, I will admit that sometimes, rarely I’d say, we hurt others with our words, and we do so unintentionally. So, when the person that was hurt tells you “what you did/said, hurt me”, you cannot say “no, it didn’t”. THAT IS NOT UP TO YOU AND IT NEVER WILL BE.
Objectively and sincerely, who got hurt in our scenario? You didn’t, the other person did. So, for the love of all the Gods, please do yourself a favor by shutting up and listening to the aggrieved person’s interpretation of events. They were on the receiving end of your words, whether they were jokes or plain statements. Your job is to listen to understand, not listen to counteract their points with yours. Once they are done, you can tell them what you meant. You can explain your intent and it is up to you to apologize or not, but you do not get to tell people HOW TO FEEL.
People’s feelings are as unique as the individuals themselves. Feelings come from our lives. They can be different in intensity; they are filtered through our own experiences and so on. Therefore, sensibilities vary, tolerance varies as well. As human beings, we are programmed to make mistakes and hurt others, whether verbally or physically but mostly the 21st century wars are fought with words. The other issue that has risen in the past decades, is to see people become hypersensitive and easily outraged. Nuance has been lost, figures of speech are landmines, jokes are as lethal as AR-15s, the slightest critique has become a weapon of mass destruction that leaves nothing in its wake instead of helping people get better. The world has become trickier to navigate through it would appear.
Please understand, I am not advocating to stop talking permanently to avoid hurting people, nor am I advocating to apologize all the time. Both options are outrageously unnecessary. We interact, we talk, we use words and words can hurt. Sometimes people misinterpret our intent and our meaning. Sometimes we hurt people inadvertently. It happens unfortunately and when it does, we ought to listen to the person’s grievance. Once we do, it is up to us to apologize or not.
Once upon a time, I was hanging out with some friends. Conversation was flowing and we got to talk about death. At some point, I made a joke directed at an old friend whose mother had passed away a decade ago and he laughed wholeheartedly. It wasn’t the first time I had made jokes about death around him and I had asked him eons ago if they bothered him to which he said an emphatic no.
Then, one of his friends, whom I had just met told me he was offended by my joke. I asked why, and he told me death is an untouchable subject, one that was impossible to joke about and he ended by saying that there was no humor to be found in death. As a lover of comedy and a fierce proponent of freedom of speech, I did what I thought was right. I paused and asked the gentleman if he was an orphan and he told me no. I politely told him I wasn’t going to apologize because I felt the only person that could have been hurt was my friend and he visibly wasn’t. My friend had crossed his arms and was immensely amused by my own forced and highly unusual verbal restraint. I was proud to have acknowledged how the man felt and I didn’t even suggest how he should feel, because that wasn’t and still isn’t my business. Did I think he was overly sensitive? Hell, yes and I still do today. Did I come off as arrogant? Absolutely. Such is life.
We cannot tell people how to feel. That is not our job and it should never be. We could always try to talk to people. We could challenge them to see things differently, to get another vantage point and try to be objective in situations. Moreover, people evolve, they change and those who were sensitive today, might not be tomorrow and vice versa. Some people are fragile, others are tough. Time will always tell us what people are made of anyway.
Besides, we all process feelings differently. We all have unique ways of dealing with our pain, joy, sorrow, success, happiness, loss, etc. We are as different as our DNA is. Please, try not to tell people how to feel. If you have hurt them and they come at you, listen to them, acknowledge their feelings and then, decide to apologize or not. The important is to hear them out and not impose your views on them. If they are sensitive, well, that is their right, and no one should try to forcibly change people’s behavior or feelings. Let people feel however they see fit or however they are programmed to feel. If asked, offer guidance, advice or your point of view but remember that you cannot tell people how to feel!
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day.