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  • Reverend James Squire

You Hurt My Feelings

There is a movie You Hurt My Feelings starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It is about how a novelist’s long- standing marriage is suddenly upended when she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book. He indicated that the book is not that great. When she overhears how he really feels, it almost destroys their marriage because of two things. First, she no longer knows if he is being honest with her. Two, she finds it difficult to handle feedback when it is given to her. It brings us to a core issue in relationships that is at the heart of ethics. Should we be completely honest with others or should we refrain from telling our truth to others? For some people such as those in this movie which is a comedy everyone finds themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Will what I say hurt the other person’s feelings? Our culture tells us to avoid this at all costs. We enter into relationships with others where we become a mutual admiration society for one another. However, in my opinion, no one grows to be a more informed person in terms of how they are really seen or what they are doing. We need to get better as a culture for feedback and evaluation can help us grow. Growth has to be at the center of our relationships as opposed to ad hominem attacks.

This approach can be fraught with danger for we may not know what the hot button issue is for the person to whom we are giving feedback. What upsets one person to hear will not upset another person so the ethical issue comes down to whether you want the other person to grow or to live in blissful ignorance about what they have or have not said or done. Step one is to discover our own hot buttons so that we are more open to honest feedback and growth in the other rather than just having the other person operating without honest feedback and not learn or grow. For example, my hot button is if you don’t treat me with respect or imply that I am not loyal. Students that I taught over 38 years somehow knew this as I can’t remember a discipline problem that I had in the classroom. Another example is Trump. He has so many hot buttons that he is constantly attacking others who confront him with their truth. No one would criticize him or dare hold him accountable as we would expect a violent verbal response and no personal growth on his part.

I had a direct conversation with someone who I regarded as a friend. I assumed that he would use that feedback that I gave him to grow. He didn’t! He couldn’t handle the feedback. I have suggested that we do lunch, but there has been no response. It is as though I am invisible to him! That is the risk that you take. So, is that worth it or should one just not say anything? That is the heart of the movie and the ethics of productive conversations.

The answer to that question is at the heart of the matter. It is answered by the context in which one is raised and subsequent feedback in one’s life with others. An example that occurred this week in Washington highlights the point. Were Gaetz’s words to and about McCarthy to help him grow or was it an ad hominem attack on his personhood? I think that it was the latter.

One of the great things about feedback for growth is that it is a key way to improve. I use to say that the Episcopal Academy should be renamed the Evaluation Academy. We were evaluated more ways and times than I can list. Our evaluations were evaluated. Feedback helps you to grow if you know the person evaluating you has your best interest at heart. I set up the evaluations of others as an ongoing process. I also made sure that they should evaluate me as well. I never asked to see their evaluations done by others. I asked them to tell me what they learned from feedback and share it with me. They could look at evaluations of me any time they wanted. People who are evaluated often by their peers and students will more likely be open to feedback that they might not want but need to grow.

Feedback for growth is essential to make your good better, and your better, the best that it could be. It also tells you where you stand. I sometimes think that the political pollsters would prefer that they determine various elections rather than the news stations themselves or the voters. Polls also give feedback on how the various candidates are doing before an election. There are times when the pollsters are right on the money and other times where their information is very inaccurate.

What the reader may not realize is that I am evaluated every month. A few days ago, I received the analytics for my blog for the month of September. 981 people read it last month. The highest subscribed story was my eulogy for Coach Auch. Most people read the blog at 8 in the evening on Sundays.

Feedback responses can be like the truth that everything cuts both ways in life such as “he seems to support a cause not matter what.” One person who writes that on a faculty evaluation may see that as a positive attribute of a strong leader but another person may see that as stubborn or won’t listen to others.

If feelings are hurt when you or I get feedback, the best thing to do is identify that hurt feeling because it may help you to determine your hot button issue and address why you didn’t like the feedback in the first place. You may not agree with the opinion of another person or you may say to yourself that I have to work on that issue.

We can learn from everything that life serves up to us even if it manifests as feedback and hurt feelings.

When in training to become a therapist, I learned a valuable lesson at Duke Medical Center that the tool that all of us have is how another person makes us feel. Once a client realizes how they make you feel, the client can see how to make a change for them to have a positive impact on those around him or her. How you feel is like your height. You can’t change it. How someone makes you feel doesn’t mean that you have to justify it in the same way that your height is a given.

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