Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stop and Enjoy the Quiet

Woods in a ParkDuring my last year of school-room college, I took a required class called Senior Seminar. Meant as preparation for the outside world, the class focused on local, world, and environmental issues. I dreaded going into this class, not because of the topic - the topic was terribly interesting – but because I knew going in it was half graded on class participation.

I still shudder to think of it. I was a good student. I’m still a good student although these days I self-teach. I’m a perpetual student. I love to learn. I love discussion that stretches my mind and my world. I love to take that new knowledge and reformulate what I already knew and didn’t know. Other than some math and science classes (we all have our weak points), my grades were high.

The professor of this course was a psychology teacher. My major was psychology. I figured he would understand my reticence to talking in class. I figured he would be able to see how hard it was to force myself to do so, and I did, red face sweaty palms racing heart and all, I did. My grade depended on it.

Midway through we also had to go talk with him privately in his office. That was nearly worse. Yet I did it. I had to in order to get through the class. So far, I’d received all As in my written work, including my essays which he praised highly. His focus, though, was that my class discussion was lacking. Okay, I know that. I did manage to tell him how hard it was, or at least to try to make him understand how hard it was. (There is truly no way for a social phobic – these days called social anxiety disorder – to fully explain.) I told him I was trying and that I was forcing myself into conversation. He said it wasn’t enough. I needed to work harder at it. He also leaned forward, invading my space, held too-direct eye contact, and generally made me terribly uncomfortable. I was flustered about that meeting for weeks, on top of being flustered to the point of wanting to drop out of school after every class period because I forced myself to talk and knew everyone saw my red face and heard my shaking voice.

I didn’t drop out. The teacher, the psychology teacher no less, who should have understood, not only made everything worse, he also gave me a C despite my glowing written work and my huge attempt at class participation.

I have a myriad of events such as this that took my social phobia to nearly unbearable heights, to the extent that when we lived in a certain location when the Army sent us there, a place where I was fully as uncomfortable as I was in that classroom, I became all but a full-time hermit.

I’m determined, though. I’m a writer. When I put my books out, I wanted them read. So I pushed myself here and there into public situations in order to let people know I was a writer.

Let’s pause a minute…

Quiet-SusanCainI wish everyone would read this book.

Yes, everyone. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is an amazingly powerful book. Even if you check it out from your library and read only the introduction and first chapter, you’ll learn something everyone needs to know. Not everyone should be an extrovert. Introverts should not be pushed to become extroverts. They have incredible power of their own, but that power is very often diminished because extroverts take charge and won’t listen to those who don’t speak loudly enough. This alone is harming our society by leaps and bounds. Introverts are not ‘better’ or more important than extroverts, but they are just as good and just as important. We all need to realize this. We need to learn how to deal with each other even when we’re such polar opposites as self-confident extrovert and anxious introvert.

Of course there are many levels of both. Some introverts are comfortable with public speaking. Some extroverts are not. Quiet  by Susan Cain explains the middle ground and other things that affect how we act and react.

Simply, this is an amazing book. Read it.

I wish that Senior Seminar teacher had read it, or even understood the concept (which he should have, by all rights, but there are many people in professions who shouldn’t be there). I especially wish all teachers would read this and learn how to deal with their introverted students, how to help them thrive instead of stifling them.

Our culture is set up to stifle the quiet and the timid. We horribly undervalue them. In doing so, we are selling out our whole society (to include things such as the market collapse in 2008 that introverts tried to warn their non-listening extrovert co-workers about). We are also making a heck of a lot of very intelligent, very sensitive people feel miserable and unworthy because they “don’t fit” the right mold.

That’s a shame. It’s an injustice.

We the Quiet of the Western world want to be heard, but we want to be heard on our terms. We want the freedom to be who we are and to prosper in that. In return, we will help the rest of you prosper.

I found this online recently and it’s excellent. Luckily for us introverts, the internet does allow some wonderful interaction for those of us who can’t do so face to face. We are in the minority. But we have plenty to say and plenty to add. Hush a bit now and then, and listen.

Back to the story, I did finish college, although I moved away from that particular college to follow my new Army husband to his duty station. I finished online. What a wonderful thing, online classes! I don’t think I got anything less than an A there.

And, I’ve continued my quest to let people know I’m a writer. I do book signings at local events. I always have a migraine the next day due to the stress of it, but I do them. I sometimes lose sales simply because I sound timid and unsure about my own work. It’s not that. I am sure my work is worthy of reading. Sometimes the talking to one person who stops to look at my books, though, makes me want to go back to my hermit cave.

Still, I will do more this summer. If you happen to stop by and see me, don’t be insulted if I barely speak. Don’t take it as more than what it is: anxiety.

By the way, many of us writers are introverts to some extent. Introversion and creativity are highly correlational. If you want our thoughts, read our books. You will learn far more about us that way than in trying to talk with us, unless you are a very skilled and quiet listener.


Unknown said...

Loraine--well said. I can't say I'm an introvert, nor am I an extrovert. Probably, I was more introverted as a teenager, but later on I learned to stretch, as you say, and dare to do something far out for me at that time of my life--leave my role as stay-at-home mommy at age 27 and enter college. Everyone I knew was stunned that I had the nerve to do that. Even my husband and my mother.
I always sympathize, as well as, empathize with the introverts in my midst.
I do understand what you're saying, and I know more than one person who is a true introvert. In a group discussion,I always spot the introvert and inwardly encourage her to speak. If you watch body language, and see a person leaning forward, intent on the subject, you can almost see the wheels turning in her head. I sit there and silently cheer her on. Usually, she says nothing, unless the moderator asks a direct question to her. Then it's touch and go if you can get out the thoughts she has.

Linda Acaster said...

Fully agree with your stance, Loraine. I'm more extrovert than I have ever been, but I often wonder if it comes with some self-appointed milestone or hurdle. Mine was when I hit 50. I remember staying quiet when I was faced with someone and afterwards thinking of what I *should* have said. And I looked at myself in the mirror. "I'm 50; I'm not putting up with this any more." And I don't, mostly.

But I'm still that listener who smiles and nods, because it's easier, and if someone is needed to wash crockery away from the chat you'll not beat me to the door. I'd rather give straight talks to a group than chat to someone I've never met one-to-one.

We all use coping strategies.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I feel your pain. I like to listen to others and take my time formulating my opinion. throughout my life, every time I've spouted off my first reaction to something, its come back to haunt me. I need time to digest what's happening. Sometimes I even need to sleep on it.

I'm sorry your Senior Seminar teacher was so unfeeling. As you said, someone with his background should have understood your situation and helped you, instead of penalizing you.

The other thing introverts (especially me!) need is ... quiet. That is increasingly hard to find in this world. These days even public restrooms are full conversation zones (darn those cell phones!).

what a thought-provoking post!


Keena Kincaid said...

Great post, Loraine. I'm an introvert in the sense that I find other people draining and get my energy from aloneness and quiet. I'm not the least bit shy or afraid to express my opinion or speak in public.. But all the meaningless chitter and chatter, the constant noise and the inverse portion of words to intelligence does drive me batty.

Mona Risk said...

Loraine, I can understand you so much. I was an introvert, a very shy one, who could never start a conversation with anyone. It hurt me so much in my work that I bought books and books on how to become assertive and I practice. My husband gave me a lot of support. When I went back to Grad school for my Ph.D. I continued my self-teaching and couldn't believe I finally overcame my shyness. As a Director of a lab, I went to the opposite end, as I was so afraid to fall back into the same pit. I never let anyone talk me down. It's a difficult and continuous struggle to go against your nature, survive and succeed.

LK Hunsaker said...

Celia, maybe you're an ambivert. ;-) I agree it's good for people to stretch themselves and you do a nice job of that in your marketing, also. It can be awfully hard to get an introvert's thoughts. The book suggests companies use different techniques instead of vocal participation to make full beneficial use of their introverts. Brainstorming has become the in thing, but it's actually anti-productive.

LK Hunsaker said...

Linda, I think you're right about milestones and I think age matters, as most women tend to become more vocal as they get older. It must be just that: we get sick of keeping our mouths shut when we see some kind of injustice or something that bugs us too much.

LK Hunsaker said...

Maggie, quiet is absolutely essential, isn't it? Just listening to people talk or other types of noise is wearing on the nerves. I used to think it was odd how exhausted that made me. Not odd at all, not for a lot of us. ;-) I think much of why I got so very quiet in my earlier years is because I need that thinking time before speaking, also, because otherwise it turns into a mess.

LK Hunsaker said...

Keena, that's a lovely kind of introvert to be: introspective but not shy. Susan Cain makes a note that introverts hate small talk but love deep, philosophical discussions (before they go home and get away from everyone to recharge). The way an introvert is raised, especially an ultra-sensitive introvert, also deeply affects her, more than it affects extroverts, so research claims.

LK Hunsaker said...

Mona, good for you for pushing yourself! Know how I started my big push? First I gave in and got on a motorcycle with my husband, although the idea scared the heck out of me! I love it now. Then I went bungy-swinging with him. I hate heights, with a passion. But it was part of my "conquer fear" stage and I did it anyway. Hated it. But I lived through it. Heights are still not my friend but it's not as bad.

Figured I'd start with the smaller fears and work up. It does seem to work. (A glass of wine during a book signing also helps a good deal!)

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Loraine, what a fascinating post. I'm sorry that teacher did that to you, it's stuff like that which resonates throughout the years with us.

I think I'm more like Celia in that regard. Heck, no one in my family ever thought I'd join the Army. I can't help but wonder if some at work think I'm an introvert because when I go to work I hudle up with my pen and paper and write and don't interact too much with others. Going to work is my "me" time and very valuable to me.

I learned a lot from your post.

Dorothy said...

This is an important discussion, and I agree, just from what I've read of the book so far, that every teacher, psychologist, employer, and parent should read this book, whether for their own sake or for their student, client, employee, or child's sake.

After reading your first recommendation of this book, I bought a copy for myself and my oldest, shyest daughter. If my youngest, whom I believe is a true extrovert, would read, I'd buy her a copy to improve her understanding of others.

I always considered myself an extrovert because it is not hard for me to talk to people, well, not always at least. I realize now I come from an entire family of introverts, myself included; some more sociable and outgoing than others, but still more introverted, creative and introspective than most.

I'm anxious to read more of the book. Yes, everyone should read it.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hey Steph, could it be you huddle up to work because you're driven? ;-) Glad you enjoyed the post!

LK Hunsaker said...

The book also mentions ambiverts who can't really be classified as either one or the other. Of course, so many factors go into personality, it's a hard call. I think the biggest strength of the book is the key siren: it's good to be what you are naturally! There are benefits to both that we shouldn't overlook.

Paula Martin said...

Think I must be an ambivert because I'm introvert in some situations and extrovert in others. It's all depends on how confident (or not) I feel in a particular situation. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.