“If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” -that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.”
― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
I’ve had friends tell me that before we knew each other well, they thought I was meek (ouch!), or worse, stuck-up (double ouch!). It’s not a perception that I set out to acquire but I’ve gotten used to it. It’s all par for the course when you’re a shy person. Let’s just say, if ‘shy’ was real estate: then I would own it upfront.
Being shy is like being part of being part of an exclusive club. If you aren’t the shy type, then you have no idea what it could possibly be like. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable but sometimes you’re proud of the fact. It can be disadvantageous, but shyness has it’s advantages too (something non-shy people find hard to believe).
Despite common perception, shyness has nothing to do with a lack of confidence. It’s more of an aversion to approaching new people or of exposing yourself to them too quickly. There’s fear, yes. But there’s also pragmatism involved.
I am shy because I hate approaching people. I hate it. I hate that uneasy eye-contact you make which implies you have to move towards them or risk snubbing them. I hate walking up to someone, tentatively smiling and proceeding to introduce yourself (what is the optimal way to introduce yourself?) I hate awkwardly flubbing your way through social niceties, and boring questions that no one really cares about. I hate second guessing what I’m going to say, as I try to be witty without being cheeky, interested without being an eager-beaver, and intelligent without being a know-it-all. I hate awkward first meetings.
But at the same time I’m aware. Since I put so much effort into this stuff, I’m really listening. I’ll remember you, your face, your name, which school you study at, which grade you’re in- and if we ever move past the social niceties, what you’re into, what you love, what you want to do. I am a great listener.
Another awesome thing about being shy: I rarely have to apologize for what I say. Because I think before I speak, I never accidently insult someone (trust me, if I insult you- you’ll know it). When I give my opinions, I use the words ‘I think’. Try it. Using ‘ I think you have no idea what you’re talking about’ is less offensive compared to ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.
“I must say that, beyond occasionally exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no dis-advantage whatever. In fact I can see that, on the contrary, it has been all to my advantage. My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
So, shyness isn’t an issue. It really isn’t. Just because I don’t randomly approach people, doesn’t mean I dislike talking to them. Just because I have a quiet voice, doesn’t mean I can’t make myself heard. It doesn’t mean I need to learn how to speak up or need to stop hiding in the shadows. Being shy doesn’t make me any less capable, or any less of a people person- in fact, in some cases, it might make me more.
If you’re a shy person, or if someone you’re close to is one- you should read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I’ve quoted her in the beginning of this article. Her book is powerful and will help you appreciate shyness as a character trait and understand how to leverage it.