Changing the negative connotations of 'shyness'
Im a quiet kid. Im an exceptionally poor small-talker, and will take any opportunity to dodge a casual conversation. Ive been this way since as long as I can remember. Ive always preferred words on the page to words spoken aloud.
Being quiet is difficult, because high school, college (and life, really) are places of incessant small talk. People seem to forever be talking about the news and the weather, the mundane and the extraordinary. Most days, I wish I could be part of the culture of small talk, but the older I get, the more I realize that I probably never will be.
When I was younger, I thought that if I wasnt talking, I was doing something wrong. In the classroom or on the playground, everyone would be saying something, except for me. Words that werent mine seemed to fill the air everywhere I went. I could say a few words now and then and chime in to a conversation, but before I knew it, Id return to my perpetual state of silence. This silence would eat away at me. Id twiddle my thumbs and close my eyes, wondering why I couldnt, just for one day, be like everyone else.
Id go home and practice the conversational dance. It seemed easy in theory all I had to do was smile and say anything that came to mind. But I couldnt do it. Id twiddle my thumbs instead.
I am older now, and I know internally that theres nothing wrong with silence, just as there is nothing wrong with small talk. Everyday, though, I still feel alone when all of my friends are talking about a school dance and I dont know what to say. I try to chime in, but seem to ask all the wrong questions. I want, more than anything, to be part of their conversation and to belong.
Ive always grappled with this part of me that cant seem to belong in the right way. Learning to befriend silence and understand that its part of me, one with my hair and eyes and nose, has been tough in a society that tells you to speak, and to speak loudly and constantly.
Often, people will confuse my silence with diffidence, and my lack of words with a lack of answers. I am writing this column to dispel this idea, because I know that its an idea that pervades through the world.
People who choose silence over speech still have something to say. They simply might find other ways to say it. Ive found the world of writing, of stories, and this world fulfills me. Ive found Speech and Debate (as ironic as it sounds) and have learned that, when Im on stage, I know what to say.
I am writing this column to encourage you to not be afraid of what makes you different, like I was and like I still am. The biggest lesson Ive learned from high school (now that Im officially a second-semester senior, I feel very wise) is that there is an unparalleled beauty in uniqueness and an incomparable luster in not belonging.
In a society that forever tells you to speak and to speak loudly and constantly, I say that silence has its particular power, too, for it goes hand in hand with listening. From listening to others conversations and from hearing their thoughts, Ive learned a great deal of what I know today.
Maybe I dont belong in the right way. Maybe I am a quiet kid. Maybe Im looking around the room, wanting to belong to a conversation. Maybe Im not talking because Im listening. So listen. Here is what Ive heard.