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Growing up sensitive in an insensitive world

I am a highly sensitive person. I grew up that way and I was aware of this fact very early on. Sadly, most of the time, I hated it. Being so aware of your environment and yourself and feeling things so deeply can be very painful growing up, especially when the world can be so insensitive. And 33 years later, as an adult who has been through a fair share of things and who has learned to adapt to this world, there are still many things that others seem so okay with that make me angry. Actually enraged would be a better word.

One of the simple things in life that can make my day is passing a stranger on the street and having that stranger look me in the face, smile, and say hello as I do the same thing. So simple, and yet, it really does fill my heart with joy! That is when I feel the essence of the world the most. That is when I feel like I belong to a community of people. That is when I feel like I exist. What is it to live a life with people you can’t have pleasant interactions with? With people who don’t look at you, who don’t care about you, who don’t care about your presence? And what does it cost to just look up and smile? Last I heard smiles were free weren’t they? Well no, apparently they’re not. Apparently you need to work pretty damn hard these days to get someone to smile at you or even just recognize your existence. It makes me so sad.

Turns out most people have no problem to just walk on the street with their heads down staring into their phones. They have no problem not letting you cross the street, not holding the door for you, not helping you at a store even if that’s what they’re paid to do, not giving up their seat for you if you’re pregnant, not saying thank you if you go out of your way to do something for them. That doesn’t just make me sad. It drives me insane! So what about our children? Our highly sensitive children who feel things so much more than other children? How do you prepare them for the dark reality they need to face at some point? I’m going to write about three incidents which occurred literally in the past three days. Three occurrences of insensitivity that happened not to me, but to my little boy:

(1) I took Luca to a playground that children just love because of a little fire engine they have there. It’s made small and easy for kids to climb in and out off. About 4 or 5 kids can get in the back and only two can sit in the front and pretend they’re driving that fire engine to put out a fire. When we got there two kids were already sitting in the front, so I explained to Luca that he’d have to wait his turn. And that’s what he did. When one of the kids finally got off the truck, I told Luca that it was his turn now and he climbed on excitedly. When he got to the front I heard him cry. I walked up to see why on earth he’d be crying now that he got a turn! The first thought that came to my head, I’m ashamed to say, was that he wanted the whole front to himself. Turns out the kid that was still there put his leg up on the seat that Luca was supposed to get and told him he couldn’t sit there. I tried to calm Luca down which was quite difficult and tried to calmly talk to the kid into putting his leg down and giving Luca the seat. My efforts with both of them failed. Eventually the kid that had left in the first place came back and reclaimed the seat which apparently his friend had reserved for him. I couldn’t believe what I saw! How could a couple of 3 or 4 year olds be capable of even thinking that way? I don’t expect them to care about Luca getting a turn but I didn’t expect them to care enough to make sure he didn’t get a seat either! At the age of FOUR! But okay, you’re probably thinking “kids are kids”. Yeah okay, maybe, although I still think it’s very odd for kids to act this way, but I’ll move on to incident #2.

(2) Yesterday morning I decided to take both my little ones to the garden near our home for a nice stroll. The weather good so there were many people there. As we walked closer to a crowded area, Luca spotted a woman who looked just like our neighbor from a distance. I hadn’t noticed her until he lunged himself out of his stroller and called out “Sara!” And there she was, a woman who looked exactly like our wonderful neighbor Sara who Luca adores, sitting there watching a group of people meditating. Luca walked up to her very quickly and I followed. I think we both realized at the same time that it wasn’t Sara after all, and I told him to come back to me, but he had to make sure. He walked right up to her examining her face in disbelief. I could tell from the look on his face that he couldn’t believe it wasn’t Sara. I couldn’t either for that matter. She could’ve been her twin! But although he was a little surprised, he looked at this woman and was polite enough to say “Hello”. This sounds like the beginning of an adorable story doesn’t it? Well guess what, this woman didn’t even look up at this beautiful child trying to be friendly with her. Not only did she not answer but she didn’t even look at him. Honestly. What kind of person doesn’t look at a child who’s just being friendly? Was she shy? Was she upset? Was she just plain rude? It doesn’t matter. Nothing can justify what happened. She didn’t have to play with him, she could’ve just smiled.

(3) Finally, the following day, Luca and I got on a crowded bus. It wasn’t can-of-sardines crowded, but every seat was taken. I struggled onto that bus holding my purse, a folded stroller, Luca’s hand, and two bus passes. After I finally made it up the steps and scanned us both in, I looked around frantically to get Luca into a seat before the bus took off. When I couldn’t find one, I told Luca to hold on tight and be careful. The bus took off, and as I was catching my breath I looked around again to see who would give up their seat first for this little boy who was about to fall over. Would it be that young, healthy-looking girl? Or the young man sitting next to her just staring into oblivion? Or maybe the woman who was just playing a mind-numbing game on her phone? No. Those people all looked at me but did nothing. The young girl started at me during our entire bus ride as though she was praying I wouldn’t ask her to give up her seat. I blame myself for not asking for a seat and for insisting on struggling with my things and making sure Luca doesn’t fall, just waiting for someone to want to help us out. But it was only because deep down inside I was certain that it would happen, and that it would be unfair and rude for me to force it to happen. Well it didn’t happen. One lady got off the bus eventually and I pushed Luca over another horrible person to get him into the window seat, because that horrible person couldn’t even be bothered to move over!! How can a person be so insensitive? How can a bus-load of people be so damned insensitive?!

I wrote about three incidents, but I can assure you that I witness such acts of rudeness and insensitivity and indifference every day. And it makes me sad that my little boy has to grow up in an increasingly insensitive world, where every generation is worse than the one that came before it, where old men and women are bitter, the young healthy ones are just mean, and kids walk around like zombies completely indifferent and unaware of their surroundings. I’m not saying everyone is like that, of course not. But way too many people are. Way too many. And that is something I simply don’t understand, and it drives me crazy. Yes, the world can be a cruel place and people have a lot to deal with, but are we really helping by being rude and insensitive to each other? Absolutely not! If more people smiled and said hello and thank you and opened doors for each other and gave up their seats on the bus, there would be a lot less cruelty and a little more love and appreciation for the world, and for life.

So what do you do on such occasions to ease the pain of a highly sensitive child? Well on the first occasion in the playground, I gave Luca a big hug and told that he was a good boy, and that he did great to wait for his turn, and that unfortunately, not everyone is nice. On the second occasion, as Luca walked away from that lady, I got down, gave him a big hug and told him was a friendly good little boy he was. On the third occasion, I think I was more annoyed than Luca was that he didn’t get a seat on the bus, and all I did was get off the bus, look the people who were sitting next to Luca towards the end of our trip through the window, and mumble some nasty words at them. Was it right? Probably not. But it did make feel better. As for occasions (1) and (2), I don’t know if I handled those situations well, but on both occasions Luca did feel better and moved on rather quickly.

I do realize not only us sensitive folk are annoyed with the rude and the selfish and the impolite. Both highly sensitive and not as sensitive people can either be jerks, or annoyed with them. However I am looking at this from the point of view of a highly sensitive person who just happens to notice and feel more than the less sensitive. I was looking up some references on the topic of growing up sensitive in an insensitive world, and I came across something really nice from a site called Evolving Times: 14 success strategies for highly sensitive people to live more comfortably in an insensitive world. These are tips for grownups, not kids, but I think it’s important for us to first understand ourselves and what we need to do so that we can try and teach our kids to not only adapt, but to strive in these hard times. And the first thing we can try and teach them is to smile and be nice and polite and respectful. And smile and smile and smile some more! Cause no matter what anyone says, smiles really are free.

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