Back here at Walker Creek Ranch and the gathering for sensitive people, the Extrovert Ideal and its primacy of cool is turned upside down. If “cool” is low reactivity that predisposes a person to boldness or nonchalance, then the crowd that has come to meet Elaine Aron is deeply uncool.
The atmosphere is startling simply because it’s so unusual. It’s something you might find at a yoga class or in a Buddhist monastery, except that here there’s no unifying religion or worldview, only a shared temperament. It’s easy to see this when Aron delivers her speech. She has long observed that when she speaks to groups of highly sensitive people the room is more hushed and respectful than would be usual in a public gathering place, and this is true throughout her presentation. But it carries over all weekend.
I’ve never heard so many “after you’s” and “thank you’s” as I do here. During meals, which are held at long communal tables in a summer-camp style, open-air cafeteria, people plunge hungrily into searching conversations. There’s a lot of one-on-one discussion about intimate topics like childhood experiences and adult love lives, and social issues like health care and climate change; there’s not much in the way of storytelling intended to entertain. People listen carefully to each other and respond thoughtfully; Aron has noted that sensitive people tend to speak softly because that’s how they prefer others to communicate with them.
“In the rest of the world,” observes Michelle, a web designer who leans forward as if bracing herself against an imaginary blast of wind, “you make a statement and people may or may not discuss it. Here you make a statement and someone says, ‘What does that mean?’ And if you ask that question of someone else, they actually answer.”
It’s not that there’s no small talk, observes Strickland, the leader of the gathering. It’s that it comes not at the beginning of conversations but at the end. In most settings, people use small talk as a way of relaxing into a new relationship, and only once they’re comfortable do they connect more seriously. Sensitive people seem to do the reverse. They “enjoy small talk only after they’ve gone deep,” says Strickland. “When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much as anyone else.”