Awhile back, during one of those postless weeks I've been having, I was brewing up a post about Hurt Feelings, and The Importance of Not Having Them. It was going to go something like this:
- My Dad is impossible to offend. You can insult him to his face and he'll smile genially, your insults rolling like water off a duck's back. This makes him exceptionally easy to live with.
- Not getting offended - it's the gift that keeps on giving. It makes you happier (because you're not nursing wounded feelings over real or imagined insults), and it makes everybody else happy too (because they don't have to walk on eggshells around you).
- Do we actually have a choice about how sensitive we are to feelings of rejection and hurt? Are there mental choices (such as giving the benefit of the doubt) that we can cultivate in order to become less easily wounded?
And so on and so on. You can see why I didn't bother posting it - because no matter how many anecdotes or theories I try to pack in there, the underlying smugness is unmistakable. I'm awesome! If only everybody were more like meeeee!
I thought of that yesterday when Bub started screaming in agony. I was reading Pie her pre-nap stories, but his wails of despair could not be ignored. I headed downstairs and found him locked in the bathroom, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. There was no open wound on his forehead, no signs that immediate hospitalization would be necessary. "What's the matter, Bub? Why are you crying?"
Bub drew a shuddering breath. "Because you said, 'Don't touch the TV, please, Bub'" - fresh tears breaking forth - "and it hurt my feelings!"
In some ways, Bub is startlingly like my genial, extraverted father. He has a friendly hello for everyone, even if he has no real idea of how to continue a conversation beyond that scripted greeting. He isn't a shy child, like the Pie; he doesn't hide under the piano bench when visitors arrive, but instead adopts one of two modes - cheerful attention or total immersion in his own activities. Either way, he is unperturbed. His new capacity for hurt feeling - one he has been demonstrating several times per day - feels like a form of growing pains. Not the dull, comfortable achiness of growing bones, but a snakelike growth, a raw new skin quivering in the breeze of his new social awareness. His old imperviousness has been stripped away, and he has not yet become used to his new skin.
We were at McDonald's the other night, hanging out at the PlayPlace while the buyers of our home did their inspection. Bub latched on to the only other child present, approaching her confidently. "Are you my friend?" he asked. "Are you my best friend?"
The girl gave him a quizzical look before responding honestly, "No."
Bub was not deterred. "Come on!" he prompted and dived into one of the tunnels. After a moment's hesitation, the girl followed right behind him. For half an hour, they stuck together like glue, chatting and squealing as they climbed up and slid down. We never discovered this new best friend's name; when necessary, Bub addressed her as "you." Their alliance lasted until it was time to go home.
Bub's skin is still thick enough that he can take some initial rejection. His pursuit is open and frank, difficult to resist. But when he comes home it's as if he's practicing for the ordeals that he dimly perceives ahead of him, toying with feelings of rejection before sticking his toe further into the piranha-infested waters of friendship. I am amazed, delighted, at his new capacity for social interaction. So why do I feel almost breathless with fear?