The song that most accurately portrays what it must be like to be a highly sensitive soul, trying to survive in a brutal, uncaring world, for me, is Don McLean’s brilliant “Vincent”. I commend the lyrics and music to you, if you are unfamiliar with the tune. The artist described in this song, Vincent Van Gogh, and all people like him, are the people that break my heart and make me sad. Gentle souls and sensitive artists are all too often crushed underfoot, by the insensitive, the grasping, the selfish, the ruthless, the insensate, the sadistically mean and by people that lack any semblance of empathy or compassion. To endure a life of pain, giving the gifts of your artistic talents, generously and freely, while receiving nothing but derision, ridicule, ignorance and aggressive condemnation, in return, must be worse than a descent into Hell.
In the 1970s, I remember there was a popular band, who received accolades and adulation, seemingly everywhere they went. The lead singer was a charismatic, larger than life character, who bestrode the stage like a colossus, yet inside, it turns out, he was a very sensitive soul who wanted nothing more than to sing and make people happy. When the band broke up, he suddenly found himself met with resentment, rejection and indifference. Confusingly, to him, he was singing just as well as he always had, tried just as hard to please audiences and worked as hard as anybody to re-establish himself and his new bands, yet he was roundly discarded and dismissed by previously loyal audiences. He had had his time in the sun and was put out to pasture. “Next!”
Being disorientated by the sudden change of fortune, drained of all energy, from years of gruelling touring and feeling lost and powerless to reverse the situation, no matter how hard he tried, he descended, sadly, into insanity. Forgetting to eat or sleep, he would disappear for days at a time, wandering aimlessly. Nobody knew where he was. Few cared. He was bound to die an early death. The cause of this obvious decline and degeneration was undoubtedly the hostility and indifference of the people he wanted to please most. Eventually, friends and family abandoned him and he found himself utterly alone, in a psychiatric asylum. The psychiatrist noted his delusional and confused state, writing that the patient absurdly claimed to have had thirteen gold records. To the psychiatrist, this was a pure fantasy. In fact, it was true.
Fortunately, the story has a partially happy ending, in that this singer found his way back into the world, gradually, with setbacks along the way and never quite his old self. They called it “rehabilitation”, but he has a clearer, more honest view of what it’s like to suffer a fall from fame than practically anybody. There was nothing wrong with his art and he still sings beautifully, but that wasn’t enough to protect him from the brutality of the barbarous world.
His story is one of giving and giving and giving, putting out the very best he had of himself, but finding this met with cold, hard, cruel reactions. Finally, he realised he had given so much, he hadn’t retained anything at all for himself. While he was a big earner to agents and managers, he was pushed hard to bring home more and more money. Nobody cared about the price he paid or the toll it took on him. He was just a walking wallet, to all those people that sought to control him. Being eager to please, he let them. His life was not his own. He was milked dry and glibly tossed aside, when no longer able to draw in the crowds, as he once had. That sort of thing would have a tendency to unbalance anyone’s state of mind, I feel.
The sensitive, gentle souls who want to please, by giving their art generously, straight from their heart, are frequently threatened, pressured and squeezed, until they exhaust themselves. All they want, in return, is to be loved, but that is precisely what they are denied.
After a while, you can see how easily the abused artist might begin to feel little other than betrayal, abandonment, like a total, abject failure and powerless to change the reactions of other people to them. Paranoia can set in, when you wake up, one day and realise that you have been taken advantage of, by people that you loved and trusted, who didn’t have any concern about your well-being at all. It’s a fair question to ask: who else might want to inflict such harm on you and who might already be in the process of doing so? Far from this being a delusional thought process, it’s evidence-based. It’s a rational, realistic response to sustained, unrelenting, merciless abuse. The facts are undeniable, if excruciatingly painful.
Our society tells these sensitive people to toughen up, in order to withstand the blows, but to do so would be a betrayal of their very essence, as human beings and quite frankly, why should they change to withstand the terrible behaviour of other people toward them? They are being treated in an unacceptable way, yet are told they must learn to accept it. No sane person could remain so, when confronted with that stark, blatant contradiction; constantly and coercively.
Countless other artists and musicians, poets and writers, lovers and pacifists have suffered madness or premature deaths, due to the despair they endure at the hands of their fellow human beings, behaving despicably. The body count is alarming and yet the death toll goes unremarked, never investigated and unpunished. Those that inflict the most harm walk away, scot free, presumably to inflict the same, or worse, harm on the next gentle soul they find.
It’s regrettable, but true, that we live amongst legions of those that are ruthlessly competitive, bullying, heartless and domineering; whose credo is conquest and who seek to vanquish those they consider to be weak, comprehensively. It’s not enough to win. They have to make sure the loser feels the loss acutely.
The human propensity to crush the gentlest, most sensitive creatures among us, who are often the kindest, sweetest, most loving and generous of people, as well as exquisite artists, dismays me utterly. They’re obliterated like bugs under a steel-capped boot. The sensitive people are much easier to break than other people. We should treat them more gently, to protect them from harm. More than that, we should give them what they seek, instead of denying them, as if the act of denial is some sort of advantageous leverage and control mechanism.
They deserve love.
Do we have it in our hearts to love them?