"I think that’s what it means to be “real” as a parent or a teacher – to be vulnerable, to be capable of being hurt. The only way to avoid the pain of vulnerability is by shutting out all emotion and becoming cold, uncaring, heartless and selfish."

Above is a quote from headmaster's newsletter. In the text, can "to be capable of being hurt" mean "to be able to be hurt"?

Actually, I didn't think about the possibility. I interpreted it as "susceptible to being hurt" especially because of the previous word "vulnerable".

But my colleague (who spent most of her school years in an English-speaking environment) claimed that it was supposed to mean "to be able to be hurt" as a kind of ability, and that it shouldn't be viewed as a passive attitude.

Aside from the context, is this usage common? For me, it sounds really awkward that someone has a kind of ability to get hurt. It sounds as strange as being able to die."

Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I am definitely not a native English speaker.

  • Jasmine, the question is a little bit unclear; I don't understand the difference between your view and your colleague's. But I think you're certainly correct that the newsletter is advocating susceptibility. – William Bloom Mar 28 '15 at 13:57
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    Letting down one's guard may be seen to be an affirmative act, or it may merely mean reducing a different act. – Robusto Mar 28 '15 at 14:04
  • Thank you both. But there is one more thing I want to check. By "an ability to get hurt", I did not mean susceptibility, but a talent or capabilities that we can develop, a kind of merit. So our views were really different. It may be a cultural difference. So I was curious if "the ability to be hurt" could be commonly used and interpreted as an affirmative act like Robusto said. Like I am ready to be hurt. It sounds natural. But I am able to be hurt? Hmm... still.... – Jasmine Mar 28 '15 at 16:01
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    I think the headmaster could have expressed himself/herself better by saying, ". . . to be vulnerable and empathetic." For a teacher or parent to feel empathy requires an emotional connection which can be felt in any number of ways, including hurt. – rhetorician Mar 28 '15 at 16:34
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    Jasmine: in that case, for whatever it's worth, I'd personally agree with you and not your colleague. – William Bloom Mar 29 '15 at 1:23

I think the second sentence of your quotation establishes the context in which your colleague properly regards “vulnerable” and “capable of being hurt” as active capacities rather than passive susceptibilities.

The only way to avoid the pain of vulnerability is by shutting out all emotion and becoming cold, uncaring, heartless and selfish.

The headmaster intends the phrase (and your colleague understands it) as an ability to discard, willingly, the emotional and intellectual “armor” which protects you from the pain of emotional engagement with the sufferings of others. We often speak of its inverse as an inability to empathize.

  • Thank you for your comments. But I expressed my question in another way above because what I wanted to check out was something different. Just about the very elementary usage of the language. Could you please answer that question? But your comments were really helpful. From my point of view, however, it was not about taking the initiative to love by discarding something. In a story the headmaster quoted, a rabbit toy just wants to be real without knowing what it would mean. But the rabbit just know once it becomes real, it won't mind pains from being real much. The reverse order, isn't it? – Jasmine Mar 29 '15 at 11:56
  • What rabbit? Your question didn't mention a rabbit! – Brian Hitchcock Mar 29 '15 at 14:49
  • Oops, I actually didn't mention the rabbit story at all. But as far as the text is concerned, I finally learned that StoneyB was right. The headmaster defined 'vulnerability' as a precious quality somewhere else in the newsletter as well as the sign of being real. Like caring = vulnerable. I carelessly read it just focusing on translation. FYI, the rabbit story was quoted from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. – Jasmine Mar 31 '15 at 12:05


"capable of being hurt"

can have the meaning of

"predisposed to/susceptible to being hurt":

ca·pa·ble adjective

5 : marked by or possessed of a predisposition to : having characteristics or personality traits conducive to or admitting of — used postpositively with of

all who are capable of absorption in an inward passion — Bertrand Russell

this woman is capable of murder by violence — Robert Graves

a grace and dexterity of which no common maid is capable — Lafcadio Hearn

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

However, mind the different

"capable of feeling pain/[hurt]"

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