Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm Quiet and There's Nothing Wrong with That

  I feel like I should have a t-shirt that says: "No, I don't want to talk to you, and that doesn't mean there's something wrong with me." I have felt inadequate and uncomfortable throughout most of my life because of my quieter personality. It's not that I'm antisocial or that I don't enjoy other people's company; I'm just not interested in being around people ALL the time. After getting into this new book I've been reading, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, I realize that there isn't anything wrong with me--there's just a disconnect with the way our culture views people like me.
    There are people who don't like (or at least, limit their interaction at) parties or large gatherings, don't like to speak up in a classroom full of people, prefer to study and read and spend time alone more often than not. These people are often introverts, and they are often dubbed antisocial or socially inept simply because large groups of people, loud noises, and speaking spontaneously or on the spot make them physically and psychologically uncomfortable.
    I'm not socially inept. I'm not antisocial either. I like people fine. I will talk your ear off, if you let me. I do like getting out and interacting with others. I can be loud and obnoxious. I just don't feel the need to do these things all the time.
    Once I get to know people, I am much better at talking to them. At a party, I am much more comfortable when I know the majority of people there than when I only know one or two people. Either way, I am apt to be a wallflower, but at least when I know most of the people, I can be pulled away from the wall and into the conversation.
    When it comes to conversing, I can speak intelligently about things. I can share my opinions pretty eloquently when given the chance. But I don't dominate the conversation or debate too heatedly because I am terrible at speaking spontaneously. I can't argue about something on the spur of the moment. I can't win a debate without due preparation. And I don't enjoy doing either because it happens too often that the person I'm debating is more forceful than I am and will look like the winner no matter how good my argument is simply because I do not carry the same weight in my presentation that they do. It's not that I don't know what I'm talking about. It's just that I have a lot more trouble explaining my ideas verbally in a convincing way than I would explaining them through writing.

    My entire life, people have been trying to "pull me out of my shell." I like my shell, thank you. It keeps obnoxious, loud people and things out. It also gives me a quiet place to retreat to when I need to process information or think about how something works or why something is. (This personality trait is probably the real reason I became a philosophy major. Philosophers are often quiet types prefer to think and reflect rather than talk, speechify, share and sell.)
    And you know what? There's nothing wrong with wanting be alone sometimes, wanting to think for a few minutes before I speak, or choosing to observe rather than participate. That's just the way some people are built to explore and experience the world. We will join the party, speak when we're ready, and participate when understand the game or conversation subject. We just need, and enjoy, a little more time to internalize the world than other people do. It's not a flaw. It's a fact, and it's an advantage in many ways.
    Being quiet and observant means it will often take us less time to understand how to do things. We learn from mistakes better and more quickly because we took the time to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid that outcome the next time. It means our arguments are often more structured and reasoned even if our enthusiasm and decibel of speech is not quite as high as someone else's. Those are good things to look for in a person, whether it's a friend, an employee, or a partner.
    This isn't to say that quiet types should try to take over the world and eliminate extroverted, social, talkative types. As always, moderation and balance are important with any two extremes. The point here is that, I'm quiet, and there's nothing wrong with that. Just because I don't act enthusiastic about everything or laugh at your jokes doesn't mean I'm deficient in some way. It just means I'm taking it all in. I experience the world like a game of chess rather than Marco Polo. I reason my way through it rather than feel my way blindly. We need both types of people throughout the world in business, family, and personal areas of our lives.
    I merely want to point out that you don't need to try to pull me out of my shell or try to get me to speak up. I'll come out on my own when I'm good and ready, and I'll speak when I've got something to say.
    This is part one of a series on this topic (I haven't decided how many posts to include in the series just yet). Next time, I'll delve into more examples of how being quiet has shaped my life, and how people have tried to unshape my quietness.
Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.
-Lao Tzu

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