Flourishing with Sensory Processing Sensitivity
Yesterday I compiled a list of top-ten-gifts-my-sensitivity-has-given-me this year and by the time I arrived at gift four I gasped thinking, “Who needs another list? Not me so surely not them!” I have a list glaring at me from the kitchen counter, one on my phone and several competing for attention in my brain. Enough is enough.
It’s December. A month that can feel toxic and ignite intense emotion and overwhelm in a second! So much coming at us from the outside as well as internally. Feels like finals week but without the bliss of studying! You’ve read all the survival tips: less is more, say no to sugar, stay out of malls, focus on what matters, blah blah blah. I’m (attempting) to focus on things like lowering expectations, catching and curbing my subtle attempts to please or rescue others, and hardest of all: to embrace what is. “Stop looking for something and just look” says Paula D’Arcy. Can someone teach me how to do this? Count me in while watching the snowfall or sitting beside a crackling fire but noticing the empty chair once filled by a loved one and facing inevitable life changes that feel dreadful demands a resilience I often can’t find within. Oh to taste the inner fullness when I’m able to surrender to the moment laying down the demands of what it should or could be like. Why is this so difficult to do?
Ok I’m overwhelming myself with my own narrative. Please forgive me. I wish you joy in the simple things, some quiet inside and out and a gentle reminder that your sensitivity is one of your finest gifts to yourself and our world.
Last week I discovered this Christmas carol was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Learning this gave the song an entirely new meaning. The combinations of human distress, deep yearnings for peace and meeting “a voice as big as the sea” resonate with my own experience.
When Bing Crosby or Robert Goulet or Carrie Underwood sing of “a star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite,” it evokes the biblical Star of Bethlehem, leading the magi to the son of God.
It also evokes a nuclear missile.
Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear” in 1963, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in response to the existential dread they felt because of the Cold War. “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated,” Regney once explained. “En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” This inspired the first line of the song: “Said the night wind to the little lamb … ”
With this context, a carol that may feel like a classical standard suddenly seems much more haunting, urgent, modern. Not that it’s not haunting on its own. Like many a great Christmas song, it is one of call and response, and of dramatic shifts in volume and pitch. Each refrain begins with a question sung solemn and low, and then jumps up the scales for the answer. This creates a sense of size, of craning upward for revelation.
The lyrics are impressionistic, writerly, about a chain of communications between objects animate and not; I have always felt a bit frightened at the notion of “a voice as big as the sea.” The mentions of The Child make the song Christian, of course. But when there’s the command for “people everywhere” to pray for peace, the import is beyond any one religion.
Baker once said that because of the fearful mood of the nation at the time, she and Regney had a hard time singing “Do You Hear What I Hear” without crying: “Our little song broke us up.” There’s reason enough for it to have the same effect today, unfortunately.
Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home.
How Smartphones Are Killing Conversation – by Jill Suttie
A Q&A with MIT professor Sherry Turkle about her new book, Reclaiming Conversation:
What happens when we become too dependent on our mobile phones? According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Reclaiming Conversation, we lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.
Sherry Turkle – Turkle has spent the last 20 years studying the impacts of technology on how we behave alone and in groups. Though initially excited by technology’s potential to transform society for the better, she has become increasingly worried about how new technologies, cell phones in particular, are eroding the social fabric of our communities. In her previous book, the bestselling Alone Together, she articulated her fears that technology was making us feel more and more isolated, even as it promised to make us more connected. Since that book came out in 2012, technology has become even more ubiquitous and entwined with our modern existence. Reclaiming Conversation is Turkle’s call to take a closer look at the social effects of cell phones and to re-sanctify the role of conversation in our everyday lives in order to preserve our capacity for empathy, introspection, creativity, and intimacy.
I interviewed Turkle by phone to talk about her book and some of the questions it raises. Here is an edited version of our conversation…
Jill Suttie: Your new book warns that cell phones and other
portable communication technology are killing the art of
conversation. Why did you want to focus on conversation,
Sherry Turkle: Because conversation is the most human and
humanizing thing that we do. It’s where empathy is born,
where intimacy is born—because of eye contact, because we
can hear the tones of another person’s voice, sense their
body movements, sense their presence. It’s where we learn
about other people. But, without meaning to, without having
made a plan, we’ve actually moved away from conversation
in a way that my research was showing is hurting us.
JS: How are cell phones and other technologies hurting us?
ST: Eighty-nine percent of Americans say that during their
last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82
percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were
in. Basically, we’re doing something that we know is
hurting our interactions.
I’ll point to a study. If you put a cell phone into a
social interaction, it does two things: First, it decreases
the quality of what you talk about, because you talk about
things where you wouldn’t mind being interrupted, which
makes sense, and, secondly, it decreases the empathic
connection that people feel toward each other.
So, even something as simple as going to lunch and putting a
cell phone on the table decreases the emotional importance
of what people are willing to talk about, and it decreases
the connection that the two people feel toward one another.
If you multiply that by all of the times you have a cell
phone on the table when you have coffee with someone or are
at breakfast with your child or are talking with your
partner about how you’re feeling, we’re doing this to
each other 10, 20, 30 times a day.
JS: So, why are humans so vulnerable to the allure of the
cell phone, if it’s actually hurting our interactions?
ST: Cell phones make us promises that are like gifts from a
benevolent genie—that we will never have to be alone, that
we will never be bored, that we can put our attention
wherever we want it to be, and that we can multitask, which
is perhaps the most seductive of all. That ability to put
your attention wherever you want it to be has become the
thing people want most in their social interactions—that
feeling that you don’t have to commit yourself 100 percent
and you can avoid the terror that there will be a moment in
an interaction when you’ll be bored.
Actually allowing yourself a moment of boredom is crucial to
human interaction and it’s crucial to your brain as well.
When you’re bored, your brain isn’t bored at
all—it’s replenishing itself, and it needs that down
We’re very susceptible to cell phones, and we even get a
neurochemical high from the constant stimulation that our
phones give us.
I’ve spent the last 20 years studying how compelling
technology is, but you know what? We can still change. We
can use our phones in ways that are better for our kids, our
families, our work, and ourselves. It’s the wrong analogy
to say we’re addicted to our technology. It’s not
JS: One thing that struck me in your book was that many
people who you interviewed talked about the benefits of
handling conflict or difficult emotional issues online. They
said they could be more careful with their responses and
help decrease interpersonal tensions. That seems like a good
thing. What’s the problem with that idea?
ST: It was a big surprise when I did the research for my
book to learn how many people want to dial down fighting or
dealing with difficult emotional issues with a partner or
with their children by doing it online.
But let’s take the child example. If you do that with your
child, if you only deal with them in this controlled way,
you are basically playing into your child’s worst
fear—that their truth, their rage, their unedited
feelings, are something that you can’t handle. And
that’s exactly what a parent shouldn’t be saying to a
child. Your child doesn’t need to hear that you can’t
take and accept and honor the intensity of their feelings.
People need to share their emotions—I feel very strongly
about this. I understand why people avoid conflict, but
people who use this method end up with children who think
that the things they feel aren’t OK. There’s a variant
of this, which is interesting, where parents give their
children robots to talk to or want their children to talk to
Siri, because somehow that will be a safer place to get out
their feelings. Again, that’s exactly what your child
JS: Some studies seem to show that increased social media
use actually increases social interaction offline. I wonder
how this squares with your thesis?
ST: How I interpret that data is that if you’re a social
person, a socially active person, your use of social media
becomes part of your social profile. And I think that’s
great. My book is not anti-technology; it’s
pro-conversation. So, if you find that your use of social
media increases your number of face-to-face conversations,
then I’m 100 percent for it.
Another person who might be helped by social media is
someone who uses it for taking baby steps toward meeting
people for face-to-face conversations. If you’re that kind
of person, I’m totally supportive.
I’m more concerned about people for whom social media
becomes a kind of substitute, who literally post something
on Facebook and just sit there and watch whether they get
100 likes on their picture, whose self-worth and focus
becomes dictated by how they are accepted, wanted, and
desired by social media.
And I’m concerned about the many other situations in which
you and I are talking at a dinner party with six other
people, and everyone is texting at the meal and applying the
“three-person rule”—that three people have to have
their heads up before anyone feels it’s safe to put their
head down to text. In this situation, where everyone is both
paying attention and not paying attention, you end up with
nobody talking about what’s really on their minds in any
serious, significant way, and we end up with trivial
conversations, not feeling connected to one another.
JS: You also write about how conversation affects the
workplace environment. Aren’t conversations just
distractions to getting work done? Why support conversation
ST: In the workplace, you need to create sacred spaces for
conversation because, number one, conversation actually
increases the bottom line. All the studies show that when
people are allowed to talk to each other, they do
better—they’re more collaborative, they’re more
creative, they get more done.
It’s very important for companies to make space for
conversation in the workplace. But if a manager doesn’t
model to employees that it’s OK to be off of their email
in order to have conversation, nothing is going to get
accomplished. I went to one workplace that had cappuccino
machines every 10 feet and tables the right size for
conversation, where everything was built for conversation.
But people were feeling that the most important way to show
devotion to the company was answering their email
immediately. You can’t have conversation if you have to be
constantly on your email. Some of the people I interviewed
were terrified to be away from their phones. That translates
into bringing your cell phone to breakfast and not having
breakfast with your kids.
JS: If technology is so ubiquitous yet problematic, what
recommendations do you make for keeping it at a manageable
level without getting so hooked?
ST: The path ahead is not a path where we do without
technology, but of living in greater harmony with it. Among
the first steps I see is to create sacred spaces—the
kitchen, the dining room, the car—that are device-free and
set aside for conversation. When you have lunch with a
friend or colleague or family member, don’t put a phone on
the table between you. Make meals a time when you are there
to listen and be heard.
When we move in and out of conversations with our friends in
the room and all the people we can reach on our phones, we
miss out on the kinds of conversations where empathy is born
and intimacy thrives. I met a wise college junior who spoke
about the “seven-minute rule”: It takes seven minutes to
know if a conversation is going to be interesting. And she
admitted that she rarely was willing to put in her seven
minutes. At the first “lull,” she went to her phone. But
it’s when we stumble, hesitate, and have those “lulls”
that we reveal ourselves most to each other.
So allow for those human moments, accept that life is not a
steady “feed,” and learn to savor the pace of
conversation—for empathy, for community, for
In this together,