I’m Changing What it Means to be “Sensitive”

“Your generation is so sensitive”

“It was just a joke don’t be so sensitive” 

I’ve been hearing these phrases a lot in reference to specifically young people that call out things they hear, see, and watch that are offensive, insensitive, or just plain incorrect statements. When something is “just a joke” by definition it should be funny. When the joke is reinforcing harmful stereotypes, or perpetuating rape culture, or being racist, misogynistic, or heterosexist, it is not funny. You don’t have dark humor, you’re just an a**hole.

Bobs Burger Giphy

I believe calling people out for these reasons is a brave thing to do, it’s an opportunity for people and media to learn and do better. This isn’t always the case though. You can always experience backlash, and the person being called out often turns it around and blames others for being “too sensitive.” I think the way we use the word sensitive shouldn’t have a negative connotation, it should be a good thing. The word ‘sensitive’ in the phrases above is being used with this definition; “easily hurt emotionally.” I do not like this definition because it places blame on the person reacting to any kind of insensitive statement rather than allowing the speaker to take accountability for what they said and the hurt they caused. This is what has a negative connotation, and I don’t understand the term sensitivity in this way. Sensitive is also defined as “having or showing concern for a specified matter,” a lot of topics deserve to be talked about sensitively because they require an understanding and a validation of how institutions, individuals, and society have effects on multiple marginalized groups. The way these topics are spoken about matters because they have very big impacts on people that are already constantly silenced. Again, being sensitive is brave, it is similar to vulnerability in this way, you never know how someone will react to being called out. You are sharing your views and feelings and that is not easy.

woman leaning on door looking out onto the city Photo by Kinga Cichewicz from Unsplash Being conscious of how you make others feel and how you and your words have an impact on people is not hard. That is what being sensitive is to me. I would much rather be called sensitive than insensitive. An insensitive person does not care for others in any real meaningful way. I personally want to be more sensitive, I think everyone should be more sensitive to other people’s feelings and certain topics. It just takes empathy. The next time someone calls me sensitive I’m taking it as a compliment.