Notes from an empath: Snowflake

Spring is showing signs of her arrival: daylight is longer, daffodils are blooming, and I have finally taken down the paper snowflake decorations that I’d put up on our windows last December.


Yes, I had put them up for Xmas. Yes, it is now the start of March. Listen, I’m from the Canadian prairies, where winter lasts for seven months of the year. I get genuinely giddy when snowflakes appear in the UK … despite the fact that they usually melt as soon as they land and simultaneously cause every train in the country to be delayed. It was only a couple of years ago in the UK when snow fell thick and fast in March and stuck around for a good few days. So it’s perfectly reasonable for me to have left these window decorations up for so long, right! Right!?


Forgive me if I sound defensive. It’s a bit of a touchy subject for me. A few years ago, when I was living in Huddersfield, I had left Xmas paper snowflakes on my window until May and I had received an official complaint from the building’s management. Yes! A complaint about my paper snowflakes!


[Side note: I channelled my outrage about this into (surprise surprise) a poem, which I called (surprise surprise) ‘Snowflake’ … check it out below.]

At the time, I was incensed. The nerve, eh! As I told this story to friends, loads of people commented on the irony of the issue, given that the slang definition of ‘snowflake’ is ‘a person who is easily offended, overly sensitive, or emotionally fragile.’


[Side note: I’m mindful that this use of ‘snowflake’ has become a HUGELY loaded term and that is often used unkindly in a world that sees sensitivity as weakness. If you fancy a more positive spin on highly sensitive people, check out Elena Herdieckerhoff’s brilliant TEDx Talk.]


The more I thought about it, the more I began to see this bonkers situation as a lesson in empathy. After my outrage had cooled, I began to imagine who this person was that had complained. I tried to put myself in the mindset of someone who felt so strongly about this issue that they needed to take formal action. It felt too easy to write this person off as an asshole. I started to wonder if they were actually really lonely or isolated or joyless, and that these things led them to hold an irritable, curmudgeonly view of the world.


As a highly sensitive empath, my default setting is to want to ease suffering and to bring cheer to people. Despite being annoyed about this situation, I found I was also feeling badly for this person. I never found out who made the complaint, but if I had I wonder if I would have reached out to them. Maybe I would have knocked on their door, tried to make light of it all and shared in some laughter. Maybe I would have learned that there was depth and nuance behind their complaint. Maybe they would have learned that I love a bit of creativity and whimsy in my home. Maybe we would have become friendly neighbours. Or maybe they would have told me to get lost and slammed the door. Who knows, right?


Nevertheless, as I put my Xmas snowflakes into the recycling bin for another year, I suppose I’ll try and hold this memory as a reminder: that in situations of frustration about other people’s actions, taking a moment to access empathy can be helpful ... to ease outrage, to soothe sensitivity, and to try and gain a bit of perspective.

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