Several years ago I worked with someone who, when I first met him, was incredibly quiet and who kept to himself most of the time. He only spoke if you spoke to him first, and then you had to give him lots of time to respond. He was the type of person who you approached very carefully and very gently lest you send him running for cover deep within his bubble. I had “known” him for years, but knew absolutely nothing about him. It was only when I began to work with him directly that the protective layers slowly started to peel away. We shared an office with one other individual, but for the most part, it was just the two of us. He was the first person I had ever known to be more introverted than me.
We had much in common for obvious reasons and it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was an extraordinarily talented individual. Once he was able to open himself up to me, the gold in him began to bubble to the surface.
He was an artist, a talented musician, a top-notch pool player, a great photographer; the list goes on. He was a deep thinker with a sharp intellect, and he was extremely funny. In short, he was a most interesting human being. Unfortunately, very few people knew this about him and I have always felt that it was such a shame.
Sadly, this is often the case with the inward-focussed. They shine where no one can see.
It reminds me of when I was a young child in school. So shy and introverted was I that I could barely utter a word in public. It was most frustrating to always know the answers to the questions, but not be able to raise my hand in class. Try as I might I could not bring myself to do it. This went on for years, and in fact, never got better. I vanished from most people’s sightline, including the teachers’. It’s unfortunate. I had much to offer I think, but the education system was not set up for children like me. Introversion and shyness was much frowned upon when I was growing up, and likely very misunderstood. Extraversion was king – and still is.
I still carry much resentment about this even today, although less than before. I can’t help but think how different things might have been if teachers had understood me and my introverted personality; if they had made efforts to reach me in different ways – to perhaps step outside the box, to think creatively and compassionately. How difficult would it have been to find alternative ways to gauge someone’s knowledge of a subject rather than make them stand, shaking in fear, at the front of the class to do a presentation? Should we really be forcing this on these types of children? What is the point? Someone who is that shy will never seek out opportunities for public speaking – ever, no matter how many times you force them to. In fact, forcing this on the shy and/or inward-focussed will likely backfire – they will only go deeper into their bubble and they will resist the notion of public speaking even more fervently. And why does society have such a bent for public speaking anyway? It’s as if it’s the only litmus test for self-assurance, confidence and competence. I believe that this notion is wrong.
It’s time we start to recognize and appreciate the gold that lies below still waters. We need to find and to nourish these secret talents at an early age, and we need to learn how to tease them out, gently and delicately; with patience, compassion, and creativity.
There is room for encouraging these types of children to push outside of their comfort zones, no doubt, but I think we need to remember that not everyone was born or has a desire to rule the world. Let’s make room for those who prefer to stand back and share their gifts in their own special way. It seems only fair.