Friday, January 25, 2013

What's wrong with being quiet?

"Am I wrong for being quiet?"

How many of you have ever asked yourself that question? If you have, you are probably an introvert.
I have been reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain, and it made me start to think. Even from childhood, there's already so much pressure to raise your hand and participate, participate, participate in the classroom. (Remember participation points?) Those students who talk more and answer questions in class are thought of as smarter. As we grow older and pass through college, enter companies and start working, there's the ever-existing expectation to sell yourself and meet people head on with a big, bright smile and firm handshake. 

One of my close high school friends once told me that in the P.E. class where we first met, she initially had the impression that I might be a foreign student from overseas, since I was so quiet in the class.
Well, no. (Unfortunately :) I simply didn't talk much in any of my classes. Incidentally, P.E. was also one of my most loathed classes, so I had even less reason to talk. 

 It's not that I'm shy. I don't consider myself a shy person. I just don't talk unless I have something I really want to say. All the external stimuli and information swirling around out there... it can get overwhelming sometimes, and I need time to fully process it all and judge my inner response, to think it over before reacting. Throughout all hours of the day, from the moment I wake in the morning until I drift off to sleep at night, my head is continually churning with ideas, images, plans, pieces of thoughts not yet joined together - an ongoing internal dialogue with myself.

I have no reserves about being open with those closest to me. In fact, I tend to talk much more with those I'm used to talking with and truly trust. I know that those people understand when I'm quiet, there's no need to fill the silence with ungainly words. Small talk is a challenge. I can do it, and I've learned to do it quite well after becoming an English instructor (it's necessary). But I cannot say that I enjoy it in the least. It can be too direct, abrupt, or heavy for some, but I would like to jump straight past the facade and talk about meaningful things instead.

When I'm in groups, I find it much harder to speak out and be open than when I'm talking with someone individually. For example, when I was teaching English, I absolutely loved teaching one-on-one lessons. However, I despised getting up in front of those huge classes of 30 or 40 students, whether they were elementary school kids or college-aged young men and women. I had to paste a smile on my face, take a deep breath, and force myself to exude confidence. The experience completely tired me out; I found it very difficult to teach a crowd, when what I really wanted to do was to focus on the individual needs of each student, one at a time.


Another example from my experience involves music and the personalities of artists. During my first two years in Japan, I performed quite a few lives in various venues and live houses around Tokyo. I loved doing lives, but having to do the talks in between songs always felt so awkward to me. I never knew quite what to say, and even if I prepared my topics on some note paper beforehand, I still felt uncomfortable saying them. That bright spotlight on me, the many eyes looking expectantly while I fumbled through a ramble about the seasons... I felt so much better after finishing my performance and going to meet and talk to the listeners, one at a time. 

However, I have seen lives in Tokyo where the artist's talking skills were fantastic - cracking jokes left and right, getting the audience chuckling, speaking with charm and unabashedly advertising their CDs, websites, or upcoming shows. It almost seems like something artists *should* do, this repertoire of chattering on the stage. It comes along with our concept of "big" artists - they are great with people and know how to entertain through talking as well. In fact, I was even told by music company staff that I should work on my MC skills, that it's a vital part of the live itself.


 Well, I disagree. I think in the case of musical artists, people should focus more on the music itself. For singers and musicians, people are not going to be buying a CD of you talking. They're going to be buying (or downloading) a CD of your music. Why does how well the artist talks have to have anything to do with their craft, their skill? It doesn't have to. Society just happens to associate great talking with great talent. Personally, I've accepted already that I'm just not going to be comfortable with or enjoy that kind of onstage talking, so in the last few shows I performed, I gave a try at just playing all my songs and going to talk to people individually after. I felt much more relaxed while singing, knowing that I didn't have to dread the next awkward few minutes of chatting to the entire room before I could sing the next song.

 Does it make a difference in the impression of the artist? Yes. Regardless of the actual musical skill of the artist, those with excellent speaking skills, charisma, extroversion - these people tend to become more noticed and successful. Those who speak up, get their cake. Even on the Internet, there are those who have the ability to keep up a steady stream of tweets, blog updates, and webcasts throughout the day. These are the ones who easily attract followers and inspire adoration from their fans.

But what about the quiet artist?

What about the one who needs time and space to process her thoughts, who would rather stay home and read a book than go to the party, who works much better alone than in a team, and who prefers isolation in order to make her motivation bloom?

Introverts are not deficient in some way. We don't need pull ourselves up to some kind of fast-talking, charismatic standard. If we don't talk, it doesn't mean we don't have something to say. It doesn't mean we're angry or depressed. More likely, we have plenty going on internally, and we just don't get such enjoyment out of being vocal and social. Nothing stresses an introvert out more than being forced to talk. Why do we so often judge people like this for wanting to be quiet and left alone sometimes?

In this society, introverts are often overlooked and misunderstood. At least for the near future, the powerful, talkative extroverts will still continue to dominate. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I really do like extroverts and appreciate their gifts, their natural talents in conversational expression, setting people at ease, and attracting people to them. But I only ask for a little more understanding and support for us introverts out there. We are who we are, and maybe we like being quiet.


(*The scarf has no religious or political meanings, and was used in this shoot for purely aesthetic purposes.)

By the way, I hope you liked these shots from my experimentation with self portraiture and lighting (using a floor lamp from Ikea and a scarf found at H&M)! Also experimented with a bit of makeup for the first time in a while. It was fun! Been going mostly makeup-less these days :)


>> I loved this blog post about being an introvert by Michelle (The Stranger), one of my favorite bloggers! So honest and well-written, do check it out.

>> Here's a short quiz based on Susan Cain's book, Quiet, that I mentioned above! Find out if you're an introvert or extrovert (though you probably already have a good idea).

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