The meaning of sensitivity

What does the word “sensitive” bring to mind?

My first impression is that of a sensitive person – somebody who is subordinate to their moods, and with whom one must carefully choose their words.  Used as an adjective for a person, the word sensitive has negative connotations.

With my engineer’s hat on, it has a different meaning. Sensitivity is the ability of an instrument to detect the smallest change in the measured value. A sensitive instrument can be used to make fine measurements, and this is a positive attribute.

The roots of the word itself lie in the Latin word sensitivus, which translates to being capable of sensation. Sensitivity, therefore, can further ends that are good or bad depending on what we do with it. It can be a disposition that causes us to react to situations without thinking them through. Or it can be used as a radar that tells us about what moves us profoundly – like being filled with a rush of happiness during a trek, or the inexplicable tears that flow in the middle of a concert or an opera.

It all depends on the framing – whether one is a sensitive person, driven by their sensitivity or a person who uses their sensitivity as an instrument to understand the world, and ultimately, themselves.

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