It was an early summer evening, and I was sitting in a taxicab on my way to Lincoln Center. As predicted, heavy storm clouds were gathering, and the soft din of thunder was rumbling in the distance. Heavy rain was in the forecast, but so far the roads were dry. We were traveling south on Broadway, approaching an intersection where the light was green. Suddenly, a car shot through the intersection from the right side. Our driver slammed on his brakes, and we came to a halting stop less than an inch from a serious accident. We both took a deep breath and he proceeded ahead. A minute later, the car on our right unexpectedly bolted forward and cut us off. Again, my driver stopped quickly, miraculously avoiding serious damage. A bit shaken, we continued on our way. Then, again without warning, a cyclist turned from the left into our lane of traffic, mistakenly heading our way on a one-way street. I’m not even sure how he missed us, but somehow he did. Finally, we arrived at my destination. I ran from the cab, moving quickly to make my performance and get inside the theater before it started raining.
Pure coincidence — or something else? We’ll never know for sure, but here’s an observation: many people are heavily impacted by the sights, sounds and smells around them. This characteristic is called sentience. Some people have high levels of sentience, others lower. You can tell them apart if you pay close attention. When we give clients individual assessment feedback, sentience comes up as important personality aspect to notice. Individuals with high sentience work better on sunny days and in quiet settings. Similarly, unpleasant cooking smells in restaurants can bother them. Even where clients have low sentience, we ask them to pay attention to their colleagues and the impact of working conditions on energy level and focus.
My experience on the way to Lincoln Center was probably attributable in part to sentience overload for the people who obliviously almost caused severe accidents. People with high sentience can function well enough in most circumstances. But foreboding storm clouds can be too much negative sensory stimulation. Another example is the common expression “there’s a full moon outside, so beware,” not because vampires and lunatics are roaming free, but because some people with high sentience may unpredictably act out of character.