In his famous collection, Meditations, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius observes: “Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears.”
I thought of this aphorism recently, when a writer friend and I were talking. We were both working on projects written from the first-person perspective, with stories drawn from our own lives.
She said to me, “I’m really hurt. I gave my draft of my memoir to my husband to read, and he keeps putting it off and putting it off. He doesn’t want to read it. I’m so upset.”
I said, “You know, Jamie never reads any of my drafts. He never reads anything I write, actually, and he never listens to the Happier podcast.”
“Really?” my friend said. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
“No,” I said honestly. “I asked him about it. I said, ‘Is it that you feel awkward reading my work, like the way a parent feels when their second-grader goes on stage to sing a solo? Or is that it breaks down privacy, by giving you insight into what I think and feel, in a way that you don’t get in everyday life?’ And he said, ‘Both reasons.’
“So it really doesn’t hurt your feelings,” she said skeptically.
“Nope,” I said. “Really, I’ve never thought about it much. I get it. Plus, I put out so much material. He wouldn’t be able to keep up.”
Thinking about Marcus Aurelius’s observation also reminded me of something my mother told me, with some amusement. I don’t remember making this comment, but apparently back when I was in seventh or eighth grade—an age when my parents were driving my friends and me around a lot—I told my mother, “In the car, it’s better when parents don’t say anything.”
My mother and I laughed, and I said, “That’s so rude! Did you feel hurt or mad?”
“No,” my mother said. “It’s just that age. Kids feel so self-conscious. And I liked to listen in on the conversations, anyway.”
Sometimes, of course, we do feel hurt, and sometimes we wouldn’t choose to have a different response, or it wouldn’t be appropriate to try to have a different response.
But in some situations when I’ve felt hurt or annoyed, I’ve found that it’s helpful to ask myself, “Might someone else view this encounter differently? In a way that means that they don’t feel hurt or annoyed?” And I can often think of a perspective that helps me to feel better.
“Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears.”