I’m a Cancer. And I don’t mean the sickness, I mean the astrological sign.
I’m a Cancer. I’m emotional, intuitive, sensitive. In other words, I care about things. A lot.
The funny thing is that the word “sensitive” is listed under both Cancer’s good and bad traits. According to Astrology-Insight, I am loving and emotional, shrewd and cautious, sensitive and nurturing. But on the flip side, I’m also indecisive and moody, over-emotional and sensitive.
I’m beginning to learn that life is nothing more than a series of paradoxical truths. It is a walking contradiction. Sensitivity isn’t any different. Under certain light and through the right pair of spectacles, it can look like something to aspire to. But turn it over, and you’ll find it to resemble something closer to shame.
Such is life. Any virtue can get out of hand. Any good intention can lead to bad results.
Say what you want about sensitivity, but I firmly believe that it breeds empathy. Because when you feel things deeply, when you let them shake you to your core, you respect and relate to them in other people.
I feel for the girl whose writing gets rejected. For the teenager wearing too much eyeliner and listening to Fall Out Boy. For the player who misses the game winning shot. For the girl who’s had too much to drink, for the person who makes a huge mistake at work, for a college student on her first day of class. I feel for them because I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve felt that particular strand of shame. I’ve choked on that unique flavor of pain.
And because I’m sensitive, I lingered there. I set up camp for a while. I lived inside that experience and ran my hands along its walls.
And even though there are things I’ll never understand, experiences I can’t even begin to imagine, my sensitivity introduced me to pain. And at some level, all pain is universal.
Sensitivity opened the gates to understanding, to empathy and to kindness. It’s not everything, but it’s something. It’s not the answer, but it’s a step in the right direction. And that’s a damn good place to start.
We’re living in a culture that not only devalues sensitivity, it actively attacks it.
Women can’t be leaders because they’re too emotional. Government has become too politically correct. The critics claim that we’ve become too easily swayed. We’re emotionally manipulated. We’re weak.
Or maybe, we’re just paying attention.
Maybe we’re just having a normal reaction to a bad circumstance.
Maybe the problem isn’t that we’re a sensitive society. Maybe it’s that we’re a cruel one.
I think we can all agree that we could use some more kindness in this world. We’ve become a culture of hustlers. We’ve become so focused on productivity and doing and achieving that we’ve forgotten each other. We’ve forgotten that we need each other. We’ve forgotten why we’re here.
We’ve numbed ourselves from the world around us. We’re staring at screens instead of looking people in the eye. We don’t have time to be empathetic. We refuse to let ourselves be sensitive because we’re too scared to risk the pain that comes with being seen.
Here’s what people don’t tell you: sensitivity requires bravery. When you’re sensitive, things matter. Passionate and sensitive are two sides of the same coin – you can’t have one without the other.
I’m passionate about lots of things: women’s issues, global warming, which roll of sushi we should order at dinner. And therefore, I am hurt and pained when things don’t work out in those areas. I am sensitive because I care so much about the result. I am sensitive about my passions. I am sensitive about my life. I am sensitive because I care.
That’s another thing we’ve started to devalue in society. Why is it suddenly cool not to care? When did “not giving a shit” become the standard code of conduct? Why does no one have any more fucks left to give?
I have a lot of fucks. And I’m going to give them all away and then probably cry and have a panic attack when something doesn’t work out because I’m sensitive and emotional and slightly neurotic.
But that’s okay. Because caring about things is cool. Putting yourself out there is brave. Showing up for your passions is sexy. And if you’re the kind of person that does that, that shows up every single day to the arena, you’re probably going to be a little sensitive. Because you’re invested. You’ve put in the work. You give all the fucks. You’re vulnerable, so naturally you’re going to be sensitive.
Taking things personally is not a character flaw. It’s a strength. It means you were brave enough to care, bold enough to try. It means you opened yourself up to criticism. It means you still have things in your life that are worth fighting for. It means your heart is still beating, that you believe in big things. It means you still value being soft.
We could all use a little more sensitivity.
Especially men. Especially businesses. Especially our government.
We need to wake up. We need to notice things. We need to stop walking by homeless people on the street and act like it’s nothing.
Be sensitive. Feel things. Cry in the bathtub. And then be kind. Be empathetic. Fight back with everything you’ve got. Serve others. Go to sleep. Do it again.
Open yourself up to this world. Let it crack you open.
You were given a heart. Let yourself use it.
When I was 13, I went to sleep away camp. At the end of the week, we had a talent show.
One girl got up and performed a song by Jewel on her acoustic guitar.
I don’t remember much about camp, but I remember those lyrics. I can’t tell you about my bunkmates, but I can tell you the exact way I felt when I heard that song. Those words have stuck with me for a long time, changed me in a way that only art can do:
“So please be careful with me, I’m sensitive, and I’d like to stay that way.”
15 years later, and that’s still one of the truths I value most, the one I wrap myself up in at night.
I am sensitive. And I’d like to stay that way.