Sunday, 4 September 2016

The silent type

I've been shy since I was a small boy. It's something that's not easy to change. So many things are involved, it's hard to disentangle them and overcome them. What would be the result anyway? Morphing from a shrinking violet to a bumptious loud-mouth?

Attitudes to shyness keep altering. Once it was just seen as an endearing though awkward personality trait. Then it became a dysfunctional, embarrassing failing to be treated and cured. Now the endearing but awkward view is back in vogue.

The shy but famous have gone to extreme lengths to avoid agonising social contact. It's said that Emily Dickinson would only speak to visitors through a half-closed bedroom door. I'm not that bad, but I find it hard to talk to anyone I don't know, or who looks unfriendly, looks bored, or seems smarter or more knowledgeable. I become painfully self-conscious, my mind goes blank, my confidence plummets, and I stand there in helpless silence like the village idiot.

Blogging has been a godsend, as I find it easier to spill my thoughts when I'm not actually face to face with someone, and when I can safely assume my regular visitors will be interested in what I'm saying. And of course I have all the time in the world to rehearse my thoughts, without the need for an instant comment or an instant reply.

Shyness is sometimes seen as a virtue - speaking only when there's something worth saying and not blabbering on pointlessly simply for the sake of it. But without the compulsive chatterers, social life could grind to a halt amid a sea of taciturn faces.

Nobody suggests manic chatterers should be treated and cured. It's accepted they have their function, however tiresome it is if you're buttonholed by one of them. But it's very tempting to sit back and listen rather than try to interrupt the relentless flow of words.

25 comments:

Bijoux said...

I'm not shy, but I find it easier to talk to those I don't know by asking lots of questions.

Dave Martin said...

I think shyness and how much someone talks are two very different things.
I was shy when I was young, but working first for a major aeronautical engineering company and then for the University have both contributed to making me a pretty confident individual.
However, that doesn't mean I'm some irritating loudmouth.
To be honest I prefer to avoid those who feel the need to chat incessantly about trivial shit, and I only talk when there's something that needs to be said.
I guess some people might mistake my quietness for being shy or antisocial, but I just don't feel the need to fill a silence with inane chatter.

Rummuser said...

I have never been shy but have interacted with many shy persons at different situations. I think that listening to shy persons gets them out of their shells and open up.

Nick said...

Bijoux: That's a good tactic, though I find some people don't like to be asked too many questions, they find it a bit intimidating.

Dave: On the whole, I do the same - not talking unless there's something worth saying. I suppose the difference is that I feel nervous about it and feel I should be "making more of a contribution".

Nick said...

Ramana: I agree, talking to a shy person in an interested, friendly way can overcome their inhibitions and help them to open up. The worst thing you can do is ignore them and conspicuously turn towards someone more voluble.

John Gray said...

I identify with this very much as i have suffered from shyness since i was a small boy....its a dreadful affliction

Nick said...

John: It can be quite agonising at times. I do envy those people who can prattle away effortlessly when the need arises.

CheerfulMonk said...

I was really shy and self-conscious when I was younger. Speaking in front of a group was a nightmare until I joined Toastmasters International for a few years and kept doing it until I got over the fear.

Nick said...

Jean: I don't have any intention of being a toastmaster, but I was bold enough to become a trade union rep for four years, which meant chairing union meetings and addressing union members. I think that reduced my shyness a bit.

Hattie said...

My brother in law the constant yakker is not just a problem to himself but also to others. He is literally unbearable to be around, especially in his latter years.

Nick said...

Hattie: Oh dear! You'd think by now he might have got an inkling of an idea that his constant yakking drives other people round the bend....

kylie said...

In the same vein but slightly different: I get tired of introverts bleating about how the world is not designed for them. I doubt anyone finds the world entirely easy, friendly and well designed.

Nick said...

Kylie: I agree. No, the world isn't designed for introverts like me. But the world isn't designed for anyone, it's a complicated mess that creates problems for all of us, even those of a sunny, adaptable disposition. We just have to do what we can with what's thrown at us.

mia more said...

I am not shy and never was . I have no problem to get in a conversation with all Kind of people and I have a big quality ( as says my father), I am a good listener. My brother raised under the same conditions as I was is very shy and my little son is shy too. I agree we have to do what we can and just hope to be with nice and comprehensive persons.
Mia More

mia more said...

I am not shy and never was . I have no problem to get in a conversation with all Kind of people and I have a big quality ( as says my father), I am a good listener. My brother raised under the same conditions as I was is very shy and my little son is shy too. I agree we have to do what we can and just hope to be with nice and comprehensive persons.
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: I don't think un-shy people realise how lucky they are! It's such an advantage to be naturally talkative. Strange that your brother and son are quite unlike you in that respect. Yes, shy people do tend to blossom if the other person seems friendly and understanding (I think understanding is the word you want rather than comprehensive)

mia more said...

That's it. Understanding. I really need to improve my English. Dorry.

Nick said...

Mia, your English is pretty good. But "comprehensive" is one of those "false friends" that doesn't have the same meaning in another language. In Italian, comprensivo means understanding. In English, it only means all-embracing. Ditto compréhensif.

tammy j said...

I think I learned early on when we moved every year that if I never said anything I would never have any friends.
even at that... they were just acquaintances. there wasn't time to make real friends. but it felt more like I had friends that way... by easily talking.
and I loved speech class.
I guess I'm enough of a ham I thought it was fun.

Nick said...

Tammy: I've always found it hard to make friends. I seem to be so different from other people, I just baffle them. And vice versa. If I do make a friend, sooner or later we drift apart. I don't even have any long-standing school friends. But such is life.

Maria said...

In my days, children were seen but not heard. We were allowed to speak when spoken to, and when we spoke, we had to speak up, load and clear! I think that could have been a reason for my shyness. I did make friends easily though.
Greetings Maria x

Ms Scarlet said...

I can be shy.... but I wonder if it's not so much shyness, but caution :-)
Sx

Nick said...

Maria: You could be right. I think I was also expected to be silent rather than outgoing as a child. Once you've developed the habit, it's hard to ditch it!

Scarlet: An interesting idea. I think you have a point. I tend to be a cautious person generally, and that includes caution when talking to other people.

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm a gregarious loner. I'm hopeless at small talk but a great listener. People share their deepest and darkest with me. Except in structured purpose driven environments like writers workshops and community theatre and bookclubs, etc.
Recommend.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I'm much better at listening than talking. I'll happily soak up other people's stories and anecdotes but I always doubt they want to hear any of mine.