Being emotionally sensitive has advantages and challenges. The challenges include overcoming stereotypes of others that affect your performance and self-confidence, and living with the ache that comes from feeling that you are walking around raw, with no armor against emotional pain.
The good news is science is learning more and more about brain differences and how to make behavioral changes to cope effectively with intense emotions. When you’re able to cope with the pain in adaptive ways, you are better able to enjoy the gifts of being emotionally sensitive. In addition, our culture may be on the cusp of giving greater value to skills that are predominantly right-brained based.
Daniel Pink states in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, that our culture has been focused on logical, computer-like capabilities (primarily left brain activities) for some time. This focus on facts, programming and numbers has also meant a devaluing of skills that are often the strengths of the emotionally sensitive–empathy, making meaning, consoling, caretaking, awareness of undercurrents in interpersonal interactions and creativity.
But according to Pink, change is coming and these right-brain qualities will be in demand in the future.
L-Directing Thinking and R-Directed Thinking
Pink describes two types of thinking. One is L-Directed Thinking, which is characteristic of the left hemisphere of the brain. This type of thinking is sequential, literal, and analytic. He labelled the other type as R-Directed Thinking. This type is characteristic of the right hemisphere and is simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, and contextual. Pink notes that both approaches are necessary to build productive lives and societies, and that the devaluation of R-Directed thinking is fading.
Reasons For the Coming Emphasis on R-Directed Thinking
There are several reasons Pink believes this change is coming. The first is the abundance of material goods that our society produces. There is not just one type of computer, there are many styles and models. Choices abound with clothing, shoes, furniture and other goods that we use on a daily basis. The result is that our choices are not based on having products that are functional or reasonably priced–it’s now about design.
Design means utility and significance. Utility means easy to use and significance means beauty as well as functionality. And design is art, the purview of R-Directed Thinking.
Steve Jobs was famous for his emphasis on design. He believed appearance and utility were critical, even for the box holding the products. Many attribute part of the success of Apple to his emphasis on design.
A second reason Pink gives that R-Directed Thinking will be more valued is outsourcing. Companies are outsourcing many programming, accounting, and legal research jobs to foreign countries. Skills such as forging relationships, creative problem solving, and seeing a big picture cannot be easily outsourced. Such skills are typically strengths of the emotionally sensitive.
A third reason is automation. Computers are performing more and more tasks that humans used to do. But computers can’t effectively provide counseling, mediation, or perform other R-Directed tasks.
Pink believes that we’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. Now we’re progressing again, to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers.
Six R-Directed Aptitudes
Pink offers six essential R-Directed aptitudes: Design, Story, Symphony, Play, Empathy, and Meaning.
When facts are instantly available, as they are now, what matters more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. Telling a story helps people remember information and understand its significance.
Emotional impact motivates people to act on the information given. Being a good storyteller means connecting with the audience, making it meaningful for them and creating emotion about the story. Story telling or narrative has become a part of medicine (listening and understanding what the patient is saying), sales, and other fields. Emotionally sensitive people often have these skills.
Symphony is the ability to synthesize, to put together pieces of information into a whole and to detect patterns. Empathy is essential for living a life with meaning and for effective building of work and personal relationships. Play or humor reduces hostility, relieves tension, improves morale and helps communicate difficult messages. Meaning is about having your actions serve a greater purpose and make a contribution.
A culture based on both L-directed and R-directed thinking may prove to be more satisfying for most people, not just the emotionally sensitive.