“What I've always wanted to do would be bad for me, so I've decided that I can't accept your offer.”
Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Sensitive & Rigorous

n

During my recent month of back pain a massage therapist came over to help / torture me. I decided to give him a chance, to accept the pain and to express it … I was vocal. At one point he suggested (though I don’t remember his exact words) that I am very sensitive, that I have low pain tolerance. It did not feel like a particularly useful observation at the time.

After a bit more time and reflection it still didn’t feel very useful. It reminded me of one of the recurring criticisms I used to hear during my career. It was suggested to me that I took things too personally. For a while, I accepted this criticism as wise, though I wasn’t able to act on it and to somehow take things “less personally”.

Over time I came to reject this criticism. I came to view “taking this personally” as a quality. To me, this feels like aother way of saying that I care. If I get involved and open myself up to something or someone, I do care, often deeply, sometimes more deeply than I myself am comfortable with. Sometimes I wish I could “care less”. Caring, in me, seems to be bundled with sensitivity. But alas, I seem to gravitate towards caring. It was true at work, and it seems to be true within my own body.

Being sensitive and caring seems to translate in me into rigorous action. Because I seem to care deeply about what I engaged with, I also tend to be serious and rigorous. I think deeply, deliberate spaciously and try to act correctly. In the past, this used to bring me face to face with another criticism: that I am stubborn and arrogant. When I reflected on this criticism, I usually rejected it (see!). I thought (and still think) that I was very rigorous and serious and as a result I may have come across as stubborn and arrogant. But I felt that being blamed as stubborn and arrogant was usually employed as a strategy to escape a demanding conversation. It felt to me like a poor strategy.

I have come to embrace both my sensitivity and rigor as valuable gifts.

In this interview with Leonard Cohen he makes an additional discerning association that resonated deeply with me:

“It just got to feel better after a while. I think what we call seriousness is sometimes confused with depression. So much of this popular cultural is devoted to pretending that nobody has any deep feelings, that nobody sweats, that nobody is in trouble, and the truth is that we are all in trouble, every single person is in trouble, with themselves, with their loved ones, with their troubles, with their work. I think it is a great privilege to be serious. I think it is a great gift to be serious sometimes. To be deeply serious about ourselves, our lives, our friends. That seriousness is often confused as depression. But to tell you the truth: I’ve often felt bad. I was depressed. I wasn’t just serious.”

Leonard Cohen

Inspiring to watch Leonard Cohen gracefully and graciously handle a bad interviewer over a long interview:

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