A week ago, I was hanging out on the banks of the Mississippi River with my extended family, fishing for walleye, shopping in artsy shops, eating fried cheese and laughing with my family.
My white family.
A few weeks before that, I went to bed pleasantly tired after paddling my stand up paddle board across Lake Union with my husband.
My straight husband.
Both times, the next morning I awoke to stories of massive violence against marginalized groups of people. Of black people. Of LGBT people. And of blame and pointed fingers toward people of Muslim faith.
And I experienced that thing called white guilt, or straight guilt, or whatever it is – guilt because I don’t understand because I’ve never been in that position, but I feel terrible. And I don’t know what to do.
When I built Sensitivity Uncensored, part of my manifesto became to build a world where sensitivity is revered and honored, but most of all, used. Where sensitivity is the method through which we choose to respond to events and connect with others. And yet, for so many of us white, straight, hsps, I find that we retreat from the painful, painful news and watch with big eyes, third eyes open, silently. We often don’t want to be part of the fight. We don’t feel up to it. We feel useless. We are afraid of the backlash.
And so we say that we are choosing love. That we are choosing light.
I sign my emails with love and light because I think the world needs more of it. But I can’t help but see how when we turn inward toward love and light, outwardly we are inactive. As one of my teachers, Kelly Diels, said recently:
love and light
thoughts and prayers
This hit me hard. If I want the world to be a better place, I cannot be inactive. If I keep up business as usual, I am doing you a disservice because I’m not talking about the pain affecting all of us – and I know that you feel that pain. And as the pain and the violence escalate, I am too angry, too disgusted, too distraught to be inactive.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe in the power of love and light, of thoughts and prayers. They are powerful tools – but they are subtle. If you’ve ever worked with me for long, you know that we always work with both the subtle and the dense – we work to shift the subtle in order to make space for dense, behavioral life changes – the stuff that sticks.
This is the same.
Yes, we should be sending love and light, and thoughts and prayers, but we also need the behavioral shifts that goes with it.
The question I’ve been grappling with is: How do highly sensitive people engage in issues that are so painful and raw to our systems? How do we take a stand when we’ve developed coping through retreat, self-care, and alone time? Do we need to, or should the hardy folks of the world take on the fight for us?
These are not easy questions to answer. And whether you decide to take a stand on any of these issues is completely up to you.
In order to create a world where sensitivity is honored and revered, I need be that change. My body is telling me that now is the time for me to speak out, to create outlets, to make suggestions, to choose sides. I don’t want to live in a world where my child is afraid to go to school. I don’t want to live in a world where people are slaughtered because of the color of their skin, their gender identity, or their sexual orientation.
I don’t want to raise a son in a world where men have no outlet for their anger and their rage besides an automatic weapon and a room of strangers.
All of these circumstances call for sensitivity and the superpowers that naturally come along with being highly sensitive – empathy, compassion and creative problem solving.
As a straight, white woman, I have noticed my privilege and felt helpless. This isn’t my fight, I think. I’ll probably inadvertently offend someone I’m trying to support. I’m scared. Maybe I should just stay out of it.
But the more I sat with the increasing violence, the more I realized that I do have skills for helping in these situations, and so do you. As highly sensitive people, we have the incredible gifts of empathy, compassion and creativity, which is invaluable in problem solving. Admittedly, sometimes we might have too much empathy, making us feel like sponges taking on the weight of the world. But we can use our empathy, our compassion, and our ability to hold space as a way to connect, to interact, and to show up.
We might not feel comfortable on the front lines, but there is a place for us in this social and cultural unrest, and we have the right tools for the job.
You know how to use your empathy – I haven’t yet met a highly sensitive person who doesn’t. You know how to do this — it just might feel scary because the stakes are higher in times of disaster, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
To the black people, the LGBTQ people, the Muslim people and all other marginalized people in your life right now – use your empathy. Ask them how they’re doing – how they’re really doing. Hold space for them to respond. Try to understand the situation from their perspective. If it feels appropriate, connect by sharing with them your feelings – that you feel sad, and disgusted, and angry. Share with them your support. Ask them if there’s anything you can do for them right now – a hug, a social media post, a coffee or more. Be there for them. Use your sensitivity to help you understand what comes next.
No, now is not the time to ask them how to be a better ally – there are some great resources for that. Here’s one for confronting racial injustice. Here’s one for becoming a better ally to Muslims. And here are one or two for being a better LGBT ally.
Now is the time to use our inherent skills to make a difference, no matter how small it is. If you have been feeling, like me, that you are useless in this fight because of your sensitivity, you are not. In fact, you and your gifts of empathy and compassion are exactly what this country and this culture needs right now. You do not need to be silent if you don’t want to be. And you don’t have to build any new skills, you can use what you’ve got.
As I move forward in posts and newsletters, I won’t be staying silent about current issues and events that relate to sensitivity. I want to provide you with resources for understanding and utilizing your gifts of high sensitivity – personally, but also culturally.
Our system is broken, it has largely lost the tools of sensitivity, those tools that allow us to be interdependent and connected. It has instead picked up the tools of independence and narcissism – this is a HUGE part of the reason you might feel so awkward being highly sensitive. If our human cultural system were functioning well, if it were whole and complete, then sensitivity, emotions and empathy would be second nature. My manifesto would be obsolete. It wouldn’t exist.
But it does. And so part of what I must do is talk about how the system is broken and what we can do to fix it. It’s a sensitive revolution. I invite you to be part of it.
Love, Light and Action,