Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Being Quiet: Part 2


  Western culture rewards extroverted behavior--assertive, overbearing at times, jovial, bubbly. When I was kid, everyone commented how smart I was and how great it was that I liked reading a book and drawing when I didn't have any other kids to play with. As I got older, I was pigeon-holed for being too shy, too quiet, and too antisocial. I still made friends. But I didn't have as many friends because I wasn't really shiny and bubbly. I didn't make the first move in the conversation. I didn't like to crack jokes or put myself on display so that others would see how funny I was. You don't get me until you get to know a little better.
    At work, being a person at the point of sale at the cash register and being the receptionist answering the phone and greeting people at the front desk, I also was criticized (albeit more politely and constructively) for being too quiet. Now I know, maybe I shouldn't be in a job where I have to answer the phone or greet people. It isn't that I'm unfriendly, I'm just shy about it.Yes, still. even when it's my job not to be, it's still difficult to pretend to be happy to see a customer or a client when it really doesn't make a difference to me personally if they are there or not. It's not like I worked on commission or like I knew them all really well.
    The last thing I am is phony, which is probably a big reason why I am not very good at small talk with strangers or greeting customers. I am focused on my other tasks and my own thoughts and projects, and having to put on this happy face feels false to me. Some people consider it just being friendly, but I draw a line between what I consider friendly and what I would consider going overboard with vivacity, for me anyway. I will smile and say hello, friendly enough for me, but I'm not going to strike up a conversation about your kids or the weather or the basketball game last night (overly vivacious).
    All this time, I've felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn't bubbly and giggly and super-friendly and didn't like parties or participating in class or meetings when I didn't have anything constructive to add. Now I realize that there's nothing wrong with me for being that way. It's just how I'm wired, genetically and through my upbringing, and I don't see why I should be forced to be somebody that I'm not.
    I have other valuable traits and skills that are a result of my quietness and I think that people should take advantage of those things and reward and appreciate those parts of my abilities and my personality rather than trying to mold me into something I'm not. I'm not a dog--I'm not going to jump all over you and wag my tail and bark when you come into the room. I don't even do that with people I really care about and know well. I will be polite, but I can't promise anything more than that until we know each other better.
    As a child, I was painfully shy. I am not as shy now, but I will still avoid large groups of people and noise and anything that stresses me out physically. As a child, I was extremely sensitive to this things. I got sick in church once because I became so incredibly nauseatingly claustrophobic surrounded by so many people. I am still claustrophobic in crowds of people (paradoxically, many small spaces are quite comforting to me) and I will start hyperventilating if it gets really uncomfortable, but it occurs more at parties where I'm expected to interact rather than coming out of a movie theater in a massive throng or standing next to people at a concert. I don't know these people and no one is asking me to get to know them. But at a party or a "networking" event or some other social gathering that I'm expected to participate in, that's when the claustrophobia and anxiety sets in.
    While I can now stand up and give a presentation, in front of 5 people or 50, I can't do it off the cuff. I have to have time to prepare. Some of the problems I experienced throughout my education and other situations growing up is because I was expected to adhere to a standard that was set for extroverted people. I am terrible with the Socratic method (used too much in philosophy classrooms considering how many of us are introverts!) because I need more time to process and formulate my answer. I'm not stalling because I don't know it (not every time, at least)--I'm trying to put my thoughts into words and put those words together in a coherent manner. I simply cannot come up with something to say just because you point at me when my hand wasn't raised.
    It's also why I don't like arguing or debating. It's not that I don't have good opinions or interesting insights. I think a lot! I've got plenty! It's just that in an argument, particularly, even a friendly one, trying to follow the other person's line of thought while managing my own and trying to figure out when to respond to their point and when to propose mine is a lot of mental work--if you think about it, those who are able to do this easily are really amazing communicators! I can't formulate my ideas at the same time as I'm digesting the other person's. Which means I lose a lot of arguments. I don't "think on my feet" well. Many people like to assume they win an argument because they are able to speak more forcefully and confidently than their opponent, but this is not always the case. Confidence does not equal correctness. It just means they are better verbal communicators.
    This is why I also prefer writing to speaking. I can take my time to work on a problem or an argument or a topic and add the right details and evidence and background information. I can work at my own pace and I can go back and rework something if it's unclear or if I think of something to add.
    One thing I realized recently is that maybe I should not be looking for a position that requires me to answer phones or greet customers. I may be good at the other "introverted" parts of the position, working individually, organizing dates, projects, files, managing my time, but I am not as good at the "extroverted" aspects which require a more social aspect with strangers that makes me feel uncomfortable and like I am not being myself.
    Part 3 of this series will be focused on the book itself. Why people should read it, where it was really beneficial and where it was lacking. Still haven't decided if I'll do any additional commentary beyond that, but it's given me a lot to write about so far, so it's possible!
“Or at school you may have been prodded to "come out of your shell"- that noxious expression that fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter wherever they go, and that some humans are just the same.”

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