By Kathleen Casper, J.D.
Dabrowski was onto something with his overexcitabilities (OE’s) research. He recognized that different people experience certain stimuli in different ways- often with intensities beyond those of other people.
He listed and analyzed multiple types of intensities that researchers believe fit different personalities and characteristics of gifted people. He mentioned that some people may possess one or a combination of any of the following five areas of overexcitabilities (what he explained to be intense reactions to stimuli beyond what normally occurs in individuals’ sensory responses): psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginative, and/or emotional.
But perhaps there is yet one other distinct OE…. the overexcitability of being intense about life itself- the intensity of being overexcited about everything. Those who are overexcitable within (and about) all of the intensity areas- in other words, those of us who have multiple intensities which causes a different kind of reaction to the world than single or double or even triple intensities – the kind of personality or driving force that pushes a person to experience everything to the highest degree possible. The thrill seekers, the boundary testers, the ones who chase passions and ideas until they drop with exhaustion.
These people are not only intense in some areas, like intensely active or intensely academic- they are intense in every area and intense about all of their intensities. They are the ones who cannot rest. The ones who cannot stop wanting more and more. They are the fire chasers.
Nothing is enough for this type of gifted person. There aren’t enough challenges or boundaries to explore in any area. They will run until their bodies collapse if you give them a race… They will ski the hardest run and then find the next hardest if one more is found to exist… They push their own academic goals until they’ve become certified in so many fields they appear to be a lifelong student… They imagine and dream of crazy things and then fight forever to find if those fantasies really exist… They will be everyone’s best friend, and yet never fit in with anyone completely- they are both extremely introverted some times, and then they can be the most extroverted the next…
Fire chasers are flames themselves, often attracting other fire chasers- but also creating so much intensity that others may get burned.
As a fire chaser, the world seems both amazingly big and wonderful, and yet extremely small and confining. There is never enough of anything- enough time, enough to do, enough to learn, enough ways to love, enough emotions to experience, enough ways to dream, enough life to experience, enough places to go, enough challenge to overcome…
Take for example the fire chasers in history-
Helen Keller at a young age, suddenly was unable to hear or see. But she didn’t give up, instead she not only learned to communicate but she became a leader in feminist causes including women’s suffrage. She was active in multiple OE areas and continued to express her intensities in her writing.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” she wrote. And she lived it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. marched all over the south, mingled with and spoke to everyone he could meet in order to express his ideas and frustrations and cares, and spoke passionately in front of thousands. He refused to back down and he knew he risked death but he kept going because he believed deeply in his cause and cared deeply about his community of fellow disenfranchised Americans. He chased a fire and it burned for millions even after his death.
And also we had the Wright brothers, Buzz Aldrin, President Jimmy Carter, and so forth. Our explorers and inventors who not only had amazing ideas, but they pursued them as if they were life itself, and they burned as flames without waning or giving in when others didn’t believe in them. The ones with high energy, incredible imaginations, a pursuit of something intangible that even when they succeeded beyond what others would consider success, they kept going… Creating more, questioning more, helping the world as much as they could in ways that were not only intellectual but were physical acts as well.
Of course not all fire chasers are famous- the vast majority are living normal lives among us (or as normal as they can possibly manage.) They may be making advances in local political issues issues- finding cures and medications and planning/building the architecture of tomorrow. But they never succeed really- even when they do. They continue to strive for something… challenging their own mental and physical abilities- raising children to question and explore the world- leading others to desire more for themselves or their communities- and/or exploring and changing things on their own. They are still chasing until they physically cannot continue.
The strain of the chase sometimes is overwhelming and they give up or give in to the doubts or voices in their minds. There are certainly examples of that (Vincent Van Gogh and his ear incident… Hemingway and his premature death…) But many also become even more successful after huge challenges, way beyond what others would reasonably expect (Oprah Winfrey… Stephen King… Monet… Einstein…)
We can recognize fellow fire chasers by their passion. And I am drawn to them. Their flames are elusive beacons that I can see but cannot get close enough to. I am not sure if it would be beneficial to coexist with or befriend another fire chaser, or if we would combust. But I am drawn to them like they are often drawn to me. Their fire dances like light and yet I never can really catch it. We are a tribe of aliens… A herd of lightning… Always racing, trying, failing, chasing…
Fire chasers have the potential to save the world, if only they knew how to save themselves. If only we could all learn to focus the heat, we could do incredible things with our passion. But we mostly continue to burn until we don’t… always searching, always striving, always hoping to catch whatever it is we are chasing.
And then when we finally think it’s in our grasp, we open our hands and find it is still just beyond reach. Like a cat chasing a laser beam. And then we are off again.
L. Kathleen Casper, JD., is the past Legislative Chair of the Florida Association for the Gifted and a Florida and Washington State educator. She is now working in Florida on gifted education issues for the state and was the former K-12 Highly Capable Program Facilitator for the Tacoma School District in Tacoma, Washington. She also is an attorney and had a practice focusing on children and families and and was a gifted education consultant for OneWorld Gifted Consulting. She is a homeschool and foster care advocate, a freelance writer of articles in national and international magazines, a speaker on gifted education and parenting issues, and also a SENG Model Parent Group facilitator. Ms. Casper has received many awards for her teaching including the 2012 KCTS Golden Apple Award, Washington State Civics Educator of the Year finalist, and Florida Governor’s Awards. She is active in her community as a volunteer in legal, governmental, and educational organizations, and has been a national and international trainer for administrators, parents, and teachers on issues including keeping gifted children engaged and supported at home and in the classroom.