By Georgie Bright Kunkel
Not everyone is attuned to the feelings and sensibilities of others. It takes a person who has learned to read cues and signals from other humans to be able to feel empathy. Since I was the youngest in a large family I witnessed lots of interactions between my siblings and it gave me a real insight into behavior. I suspect that is why I chose counseling as the focus of my career in education.
Often I have to keep what I notice about the non-verbal behavior of others to myself because if I chose to speak about it, it might be denied. As a person who is outspoken at times I am thought to have a rather thick skin. But that is not the case.
I have such a radar equipped personality that I often hurt inside with what I am able to take in from my environment.
Writing is one way I can explore my emotional relationship to my environment. It is a way to clarify feelings and describe delight in my world. Every person can benefit from writing if it is only in a daily journal. In fact, journaling is an important way to contribute to history. I would encourage every person to donate their journals to an archive somewhere. That is how history is written—the accumulation of journals available to historians who can build a story of humanity from all those who have lived.
When one of my older sisters was alive she realized the importance of family history and collected everything she could that related to our family. There were pictures of family members clear back to my great grandparents. She asked all the living members of our family to write a history of their lives.
My second cousin, who died two years ago after living to be over a hundred, had information about my relatives in Maine. Once when I traveled to California I went into the archives of the library near where my mother was born. I learned a lot about the early pioneers including my grandfather who worked in the redwood harvest until all available trees were cut down and the company moved out.
Sensitivity seems to be a trait that runs in my family. However, my mother could never understand my hyperactivity when I was a child. She herself was a more stoic personality and wasn’t attuned to my standing on my hands in the house and running outside to swing on tree limbs at every opportunity. My father died just a month or so before I was born and my mother said that she cried every day of the first year of my life. That early experience must have given me a sensitivity to the feelings of others—bigtime.
Life is complex and we will never know exactly what role sensitivity plays in human development.
However, more and more research is available on the effect of parenting and birth order on shaping personality. Although I abhor criminal behavior, I understand how a person could become a criminal. If one is successful in life, it is often the result of good genes and the luck of birth to nurturing parents in the right neighborhood. However, it may also be the result of supportive influence outside a dysfunctional family available at the right time in one’s development. Each one of us as adults can make a difference to someone in our acquaintance. There are young people waiting to be nurtured so we need to be sensitive to their needs. At any age we can give a helping hand to those who are younger. We need to share our wisdom and strength as older people in our lives helped us to become our best selves.
Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-935-8663.