I know we all focus on the usual five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. I spend lots of my time in environments where trauma has occurred or is present: the location of shootings, natural disaster sites, immigrant support centers, an Indian Reservation, inner cities, military bases and military schools, organizations serving troubled youth, and educational institutions.
I think there are two added senses we have and that we can and should identify and foster. I am not just talking about emotional intelligence, although there is an intersection as you will see. To be sure, I am not the first person to suggest that we have more than the “Big 5” senses, although there seems to be no general consensus on how many senses we have beyond the Big 5 and what those might be.
My sixth sense would be balance; I think we need to recognize that actual balance (as in standing on one leg or not falling down on a steep incline or walking up or down stairs or riding an escalator) is critically important. To be sure, our sense of balance seems to deteriorate as we age. But, balance needs to be developed and practiced and cultivated and nurtured. It needs to be respected. And, here’s the added bonus: I think that body balance can help lead to internal balance — as in finding one’s center. It is hard to find one’s center as the world is swirling around literally and figuratively.
My seventh sense is a bi-product — a positive bi-product — of trauma. It is the capacity to read and anticipate what others are feeling or thinking or sensing. If one is hypervigilant, one is often on high alert, which can be uncomfortable and difficult. But, sensing the needs of another ahead of their asking, getting a sense of an audience reaction without asking for feedback, gathering the timber of a place or a gathering from use of a gestalt approach: this is a seventh sense. It is more than intuition; it is not exactly mind-reading; it is more like feel-reading but it is informed by one’s trauma. Call it empathy engines with exquisite mirror neuron activation.
I raise these two added senses for three reasons: (1) they help folks; (2) they can be developed if missing or unrecognized; and (3) they add to our understanding of some of the positives that flow from trauma if and when we mobilize ourselves to tap into trauma differently.
So, stand on one leg. Read a room. Anticipate a child’s needs. It feels good. And, it helps others. And, it might just help us understand why we fall down and how we can stand up — for ourselves and others. In our current world, that would be a remarkable accomplishment.
A version of this article first appeared on Medium.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.