Friday, August 29, 2014

On shyness

I'm shy, so this is preaching to myself, and if you are offended by what I say here, then please at least realize that I don't like it either, but I think it's true.  Furthermore, I believe that truth is more important than palatability.

Elizabeth Eliot said that shyness is really only a form of selfishness.  I was unable to locate this quote; it may have been in an article and not a book, maybe even a magazine interview or something.  Additionally, my exact wording is probably inaccurate.   All I know is, I read it, and it was attributed to Mrs. Eliot, so whether or not you tend to agree with her, I'm trying to give credit where credit is due.

Also.  Let's just think about that statement: Shyness is really only a form of selfishness.

Shyness is a form of selfishness.

In what way is shyness selfishness?  Let's list some of the ways:

1.  When I am shy, I focus on my own feelings.  I am uncomfortable.  I am afraid to speak.  I don't want to be around these people.  I don't think anybody is being very nice to me.  I.  I.  I.

2.  When I am shy, I often think that I am the center of the universe and everybody is looking at me and sizing me up, and it is all about meMe. Me. Me.

3.  In assuming that I am the center of the universe and focusing on my own feelings, I neglect to think about others, their concerns, fears and feelings.  I think that others ought to make me feel comfortable, neglecting to understand that I, also, have a role in making them feel comfortable.  In so doing, I put my own needs above the needs of others.

4.  When I put my own needs above others, I begin to self-protect, to defend, to insulate.  My priority is to protect myself from being hurt, and I forget to think about the collateral damage this may cause, how in protecting myself I am liable to hurt others. 

Back in the day when I was a little girl growing up, I had a friend who was shy.  She was the sweetest thing, and much more shy than I.  In Sunday school, if the teacher asked her a question, or if she had to go to the front to drop birthday pennies into the bank, she would turn beet red.  Beet red.  And she would not speak.

She was shy for years, and we went from feeling painfully sorry for her to being used to her.  But then one day (I'm not sure if it was towards the end of high school or the beginning of college), she changed.  She became a wonderful conversationalist, a confident, caring, friendly person.

One time we had a conversation about this, and she said, "I just realized one day, I have to get control of this and stop thinking about myself and start thinking about other people."  So she started listening to other people.  And asking questions.  And listening to the answers and asking more questions.  Eventually, she also started sharing her own thoughts and feelings.

Most people want friends and relationships as much as you do.  Most people are dying for someone who cares enough about them to ask them questions about what they think, how they feel, what they've experienced.  Most of us are on a path together longing for emotional intimacy with our fellow man.  But many of us are afraid to step out and make the first attempt to connect.

We fear rejection so deeply, we isolate ourselves.  Which is crazy, because isn't isolation exactly the thing that we fear as the end result of rejection?

Now, clearly there are people who are only in the world to figure out whether they can use you to get ahead, and whether a relationship with you would benefit them.  If associating with you will help them climb the proverbial ladder, then they are all in.  But if associating with you will not get them ahead, may not result in any payoff at all, then they don't want to have anything to do with you.  You aren't good looking enough, or rich enough, or cool enough, or hip enough, or smart enough, or amusing enough, or whatever enough, and so they are uninterested.  Guess what?  You don't have to worry about them.  They aren't the kind of people who make good friends.  Their rejection will actually free you to find better friends elsewhere.  So go ahead and take the risk!  The only thing you have to lose is that you might be rejected by people you'd rather not invest in anyway.  This is a big win-win.

For adults, it is mind over matter.  Most adults have learned to be polite.  Just take your good manners to the next level and be honestly interested in people.  Try to figure them out, learn about what makes them tick, learn how to make somebody happy, and then do something to brighten her day.  Stop thinking about what makes you feel comfortable and focus on figuring out how to make somebody else feel comfortable.  When you do this, you will be astounded by how much happiness you can bring to people, and in return, how much joy you will experience yourself.

If you have shy children, help them by constantly exhorting them to think about others.  Teach them to be aware of others' feelings.  Say, "How do you think it made her feel when that happened?"  Ask, "What do you think he was hoping when he did that?"  Remind, "People like it when you smile at them!  It makes them happy!"

There may even be times when it is appropriate to tell your children, "You know how you feel awkward when the teacher calls on you in class?  Well, you make Steven feel that same sort of awkwardness when he asks you a question and you won't look at him.  And you hurt Nicole's feelings when you run away while she is trying to share her toys with you.  Even if you think you feel awkward, it is your job to be respectful and kind to others."  A shy child does not need to share stories and anecdotes or talk about his feelings, but he does need to learn to say hello and excuse me and thank you.

Explain that shyness is not an excuse for poor manners.  Good manners are a way that we express respect and kindness to others.  To be rude in the name of shyness is really very selfish indeed.  This goes for children and adults alike.

We are all magnificent creations of God.  He loves us with a love that stretches far beyond any love we could ever hope to express.  He did not try to protect Himself in any way, but laid Himself bare, first by emptying Himself of His divinity and taking on human flesh, then by dying an excruciating death while bearing all the collective sins of the entire world  (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus' love for us gives us security and confidence, and it also sets a pattern for us.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, the Bible says in Philippians 2:5.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 
not looking to your own interests 
but each of you to the interests of the others.  
Philippians 2:3-4, NIV

That is the antidote to shyness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting food for thought.