boat logo

Village Gate

Library Hut


Dealing with Those Who Hurt Others
by Stewart Blackburn

Most of us start with what we need to survive--food, water, shelter, sleep. We want these things at the deepest levels of our being and we will work very hard to get them. And when we do get them, there is a definite pleasure in doing so. Even if the food isn't very good, we get pleasure from it if we're very hungry. We're always trying to feel better.

"Men seek but one thing in life--their pleasure."
W. Somerset Maugham

But what about those people who do acts of great harm to others? Such people seem to find pleasure in harming other beings.

We're dealing with hypothetical situations here and we need to be careful about what we are assuming. We can't assume that people are acting in a vacuum or out of context in some way. The sadistic person has his or her pleasures based on feeling better, just like the rest of us. We don't know what they were feeling before their acts of cruelty. We don't even know for sure what they were feeling during those acts. Or even if they were feeling anything. But let's assume that they were acting in a way that felt better than what they were feeling before.

Perhaps they chronically felt unloved, weak, and depressed. Being cruel to others could be a way of feeling a little more powerful, even if it's a false power and very temporary. It still feels better than unloved, weak, and depressed--probably by a lot. Now, are there other feelings that would work a great deal better? Most certainly! But those better feelings may not be accessible to someone who thinks that they deserve to be punished or are simply unworthy. Judging others' motivations can get us into a kind of thinking that is more about us and our own fears than about the other.

"All cruelty springs from weakness."
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It's important to remember that not all feelings are great ones, and they don't need to be, to be quite valid. Anger and rage are considered to be negative emotions. But, like most things in life, they are positive or negative by how we view them. Anger and rage are a lot better than depression and numbing endurance. Pessimism feels better than anger. Hope feels better than pessimism. Positive expectation feels better than hope. And joy feels better than positive expectation.

When we talk about pleasure, we're talking about feeling better in a moment relative to what was being felt before that moment. Hope, then is a pleasure when it follows anger, but is less pleasurable when it follows joy.

We can be more compassionate towards others when we look at their motivations, knowing that they are trying to feel better than how they have been feeling. We can act on that compassion, not by condemning their feelings, but by recognizing their motivations and steering their actions towards more life-affirming paths if we can.

I think that we need to make a distinction between what someone is feeling and how he or she is acting. We have a great many laws that provide sanctions against people who harm others. We need these laws for a sane and orderly society. However, we also need to accept someone's pain and their attempts to feel better. Accepting their feelings without accepting their behavior is a good place to start.

"Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change."
James Russell Lowell

When we tell someone that their anger is wrong, we prevent them from using their own inner wisdom to seek feeling better. All we are doing is encouraging them to feel bad about themselves. This is counterproductive and a net loss of joy in the world. When we can recognize that their anger feels better than just suffering, we begin the process of getting to even better feelings. We might go from anger to thoughts about revenge. Revenge feels better than anger, but carries major penalties. A feeling somewhat higher on the scale might work better, like expressing the anger in some constructive context, as in deciding to never be in the same situation again. Forgiveness, better yet, is a feeling that will come along at the point where the anger is no longer important.

The important thing to remember here is that we don't have to like someone's actions when they hurt others. But by helping them deal with their feelings, if we can, sometimes we can change a situation of rage and hurt into one of understanding and peace.

"Our most important task is to transform our consciousness so that violence is no longer an option for us in our personal lives, that understanding that a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time."
Deepak Chopra

There was a marvelous story in the news some years back about an excessively abusive man on a commuter train in Japan. He was raging against everyone near him, even striking those who got too close. Another commuter dared to go up to him and, speaking gently and kindly, asked him about his troubles. Little by little, the wild commuter relaxed and talked about the terrible things that had just happened to him at work and at home. Eventually he calmed down and started to cry on the brave fellow commuter's shoulder, and the rest of the commute was peaceful.

We can't always help like that, but there are more instances than we might suspect where recognizing that someone hurting others is in pain and we can help more with understanding than with anger or demands for "justice." A little love in the face of ugliness and fear can go a long way!

Copyright 2014 Stewart Blackburn

Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is:; email:

palm isle