To anyone who knows me off-web, up-front style, I am a very shy and quiet person who has the capacity to talk (quite a bit, in fact) when with a small group of close friends or academic/on-the-job buddies. Early in my college career, I believed I had some form of social anxiety and perhaps I still do, but pushing myself to conquer those fears has lessened its effects significantly. Still, through my college years I have been ruminating on why I either do not talk to others or, when I do talk, why I say very little.
First, and foremost: The Art of Conversation
I absolutely adore conversation. Especially the fast-paced back-and-forth of witty, intelligent people. Now, I’m not saying that I am neither witty nor intelligent, I am merely saying that when it comes to conversation, I am at least lacking. (I’m a writer, not a speaker.) And when in an academic setting (or a writer’s workshop, for instance), my small, hesitant voice seems like the last thing I want to contribute to what could potentially be a wonderful, invigorating conversation. I love to listen and to learn from watching others’ example.
And, I have to admit, part of my silence is selfish. I already know what I think about the subject. What I want to know is what other people think. A few people have told me in the past that they see me as a very un-opinionated person. Which isn’t true. I have a lot of opinions. I just tend not to share them, mostly because I like to hear other peoples’ opinions. (Which, indeed, makes it difficult to communicate well with others.)
I write. That’s what I do. When I was very young and my parents would urge me to talk with them about various things (problems, boyfriends, life, etc.), I would always write them a letter. I wouldn’t talk to them about it, and they wouldn’t force me to (which, in hindsight, is probably one of the major reasons that I am shy). I hardly spoke. I listened. And then made all of the opinions, beliefs, arguments inside my own head.
Sometimes it’s just easier and more rewarding, for me at least, to listen respectfully and say little. Great art has come from merely listening to conversation. I remember in my first Creative Writing class, one of our assignments was to listen and transcribe a conversation between at least two people. (Much along the lines of Hemingway’s, “Hills Like White Elephants”, adding in setting, description, etc. where necessary.) Reading everyone’s stories in class, it was amazing how much could be brought to a story just through dialogue (in this case, real, not-made-up dialogue). The art of conversation, ladies and gents, is beautiful.
Second: Lack of Self-Confidence
Too many people these days seem to open their mouths and spout little that is either important or intelligent. There’s usually at least one person every semester that mortifies me with their words. (Not in a bad way, I don’t necessarily judge them for it; I would merely hate to be that person and not realize.) The number of people (you know, the stubborn idiot type) has largely decreased over the years since elementary school, but I noticed it from that young age. Whether it’s a ploy to gain attention or merely a lack of realization, asking the “stupid” questions or giving the stupid answers seemed to subsequently put me off from making those same mistakes, rather than stepping up and giving actually good statements. Hence, the title of this section.
Third: Less About Speaking, More About the Initial Takeover of the Conversation
I hate interrupting people. See Section One. Good conversation is not only beautiful but also hard to come by. Plus, I feel bad for cutting off other people. There’s always that slightly annoyed, slightly hurt, slightly surprised look left on the other person’s face, even if it disappears completely seconds afterward. For the most part, I’m probably overthinking the impact that my words or actions will have on others. They probably don’t care quite as much as I do. Still, though, the act of joining a conversation is mildly more scary than the actual conversing.
There ends my musings for today. Undoubtedly there will be more.
Got opinions? I’d love to hear them (on this topic especially!). Comment below and maybe we can start our own wonderful conversation.
If you’ve ever felt the pangs of social anxiety, I recently read an article on Lifehacker: “How I Got Over Being Shy and Embraced Talking to People I Don’t Know” that really resonated with me. Lifehacker has, actually, quite a few articles on the subject. And if your shyness or anxiety is beginning to impact your social, academic, or work life, there’s nothing wrong with visiting a counsellor or seeking out help from others. There’s always someone out there who cares about you.
May your life have many creased pages!