Sensitivity and Snowflakes


I'm still thinking about G.A. Aiken's Bring the Heat, the latest in her Dragon Kin series. I love these books. The characters are so deliciously bloodthirsty and direct. It's refreshing. So many in this world hide behind silence and indirect attacks. I love the lack of filter, having almost none myself. It's good to spend time with those of a like mind, even if it's only between pages. Especially then.  But I digress before I've even begun. Why am I thinking of filters and frankness? Because G.A. Aiken also writes about the sensitives in the world—hers and ours. In describing one of the characters who "felt more deeply, lived more heartily, loved with her entire being," the author also noted that "she could also break more easily and all that lovely goodness curdle."  In our world, we call these people "snowflakes," those who melt at the first sign of any heat. Let’s unpack these ideas. In today's society, we are encouraged to have a thick skin, not to take insults, snide remarks or petty slights personally or seriously. If we take umbrage we are often exhorted to act like a duck and let the offense roll off our backs. And there is wisdom in that approach. We can't let insults from idiots ruin our day. On the other hand, sensitivity is a desirable trait in life, allowing us to read people and situations, giving us emotional intelligence that can lead to success and happiness. 

There is an evolutionary advantage to sensitivity. There must be, or there wouldn't be so many of us. Yes, us. I'm somewhat sensitive. Whatever field I work in, from national security to natural health, I end up being an armchair psychologist—listening with wide open emotions to other people's issues and secrets. Why?  Because I can sense when others are in pain, or upset, happy, afraid, doubtful, angry, etc. It's a very useful skill. I'm not good in a crowd, like some politicians, for example, who can feel the pulse of the people and respond accordingly. But one on one, I'm a mirror to others. Because I'm sensitive.

Being a sensitive also gives us more emotional bandwidth, the higher highs and the lower lows—you can't have one without the other, as I've written about before. When I love, I do it with my whole heart. And when that love has been betrayed or lost, that same open heart broke into a million pieces. But, as Facebook tells me, one can either get bitter or better, and, thankfully, I chose better. But it took some doing, both to learn to be more discerning with my wide-open heart and to eschew bitter. It was not a linear path. 

So, I can understand why the character in Bring the Heat was concerned about goodness curdling. It happens. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to my brother, who was the sweetest, most loving, sensitive soul in the world as a little boy. And that sweetness was drummed out of him, mostly by others, but I cannot claim total innocence in the dimming of his light. In my defense, I was a sensitive too, and we both lived in a psychological house of horrors. I chose better. He did not. He descended into darkness.

Sensitives who learn to protect themselves without hardening their hearts are lovely people who fill a burning need in our world. We are the emotional barometers against whom others measure their feelings. Everyone loves the lovers, the enthusiasts, those who live life large, and take the plunge instead of dipping just their toes. Others live vicariously through them, wishing they could be as exuberant.

But there is a downside to this lust for life. For me, it manifests in periods of depression and discontent where I bemoan that I’m not doing more or better or both. It's always there, an underlying current that fuels my energy but also burns me out. It's a double-edged sword, like everything else. No free lunch.

And what about those like my brother, for whom the goodness curdles and sours? I mourn that beautiful, delightful, wonderful little boy, and wish I could find something of the child in the man. But if it's there, I can't see or reach it. And the taste is that much worse for the sweetness that preceded it. Ashes in my mouth.

My advice is that we all take care of these fragile flowers because they are precious. And while it's true that snowflakes melt, especially when we Bring the Heat, they are each uniquely beautiful—exquisite designs of exceptional allure that make life worth living.