Why are people so sensitive these days?

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. — Dalai Lama

I’m coming to you today with a topic that’s been on my heart for a couple of weeks now. It’s been on my mind since before last week’s most recent terror attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Kenya, but it feels all the more poignant now, in light of those events. This all started a couple of weeks ago when a relative of mine asked on Facebook: “why are people so sensitive these days?” He was commenting on the fact that people seem to take things so personally these days on Facebook and elsewhere. His question got me thinking, and here’s what I came up with…

The main reason people get overly sensitive about what others say to them on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet is that the written word has no tone attached to it. Sure, we can use words that sound more or less harsh than others, but in the end, a simple, well-intentioned statement can come off jerky when it’s not meant that way at all. I had something like that happen to me online as early as 1995 with a high school friend, someone I’d known since Kindergarten. Always remember this: people are going to read things how they want to read them, not as you intend them.

Which brings me to my next point: people have become even more cynical and negative these days with the pervasion of the 24 hour news cycle, endless phone alerts, and basically, just living in a more connected world. Many people seek no respite or refuge these days from the endless barrage of information flows unfettered into their devices, homes, minds, and psyches. In short, we’re tired, over-stimulated, and worn out. Most people are on edge and often quite tense due to this level of input. Because people are over-stimulated, over-worked, and under-rested, their senses are dulled and judgment strained. People hear so many negative things each day that it filters into the brain and seeps into the judgment center. If one isn’t careful, the negativity and cynicism can take over. People seem so sensitive these days because they are more sensitive these days. Peoples’ emotions are shot and their brains are fatigued. Since the brain oftentimes seeks the path of least resistance, it will slip into a rut of negativity, even if it’s not happy. I think that the brain would rather be comfortable than happy, many times. It seems counter-intuitive, but the brain has so much to deal with that I believe it would rather default to the known than try to venture into the unknown. Sometimes there just isn’t anything left to try with.

I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom. I don’t see the world as a big ball of negativity waiting to burst. I have hope for this world and hope for people. But we must learn to take care of ourselves and each other. We must learn to assume the best in people instead of assuming the worst. When I responded to my relative’s post on Facebook, one of the things I said was that I thought it said more about the person receiving the comment than the person making the comment, if their natural inclination was to just assume the worst in everyone. I didn’t mean that as a judgment. It was simply an observation that really got me thinking about how I take comments made to me online. Am I assuming the worst? If this person is my friend, why am I defaulting to thinking they’re against me? When I find myself thinking this way or going into reactive mode, I’ve learned to just slow down and not knee-jerk react. In the wise words of Kate Courageous, I’ve learned to watch what I make things mean. In practice, it means that I’m working hard to stop assuming the worst in people. I’m approaching life from a place of love, kindness, caring, acceptance, and compassion. Honestly, it’s not always easy, but what it offers me is peace of mind, which is invaluable to me.

In this time of heightened emotions and the fear mongering spewing from politicians and news sources, take control of your own experience. Decide what you need (or want) to do to make your own experience in this world as pleasant as possible. Before reacting out of hurt to someone or a comment that’s been made, take some time to think that you might be wrong about their intentions. If someone’s really your friend or really cares about you, they won’t want to hurt you. If that proves to be otherwise, then they weren’t your friend. I’ve had to learn this the hard way, but since I’ve been approaching people with more love and open-mindedness, I’ve noticed that my experiences online (and otherwise) have improved. To me, that’s what really matters.

  • Faye Terrebonne Arco

    Well said Addie. I have noticed that many people choose to take a comment in the worst possible light never even considering that it was not intended that way. I find myself asking my students “whose brush are you painting this with?” and I often ask my husband why he chooses to get mad at how he perceives I meant something instead of just asking me to clarify. We need to really dialogue with each other so we do not continue to lose the art of non-verbal cues in conversation.

    • Thanks for your comment, Faye! I really love the “whose brush are you painting with?” question. How powerful. And it allows the student to examine and be mindful of his/her position and experience. I’ve also come to realize that I love talking to people and trying to better understand their stories and where they’re coming from. People can be so fascinating when we just stop and listen to what they actually have to say! 🙂