For the Love of Shyness

When I seek background chatter and there is nothing else entertaining on television, I will occasionally slum it to VH1, letting the utter stupidity of Celebreality pollute the air while I write. While the exaggerated personalities — with their puffed-up sexuality, ignorance, greed and vulgarity — provide spirited foils to my activities, one show halted my work and killed all creativity: For the Love of Ray J.

This soul-sucking antithesis of everything decent and noble in the world, starring the 28-year-old celebrity leech/actor/singer/wannabe pornstar/creep and brother of singer Brandy Norwood, featured 14 women vying for fame and fortune love while degrading themselves in the process. One of the women (Lil’ Hood? Chardonnay? White Zinfandel?) was a bit quieter than her loud-mouthed, obscene peers, and this perplexed the slimy lothario, wondering how to get the bizarrely-nicknamed actress love seeker to open up (in more ways than one?). His attitude towards her and her apprehensiveness was almost like a billiards player examining a tough shot, a doctor inspecting a leper.

Mothers, hide your daughters and orifices!

I did not stick with the show to see if the timid flower revealed her personality (and other things) to the titular jerkstore, but one thing did stick out: Ray J’s anxiousness towards the introverted girl is an attitude that many Americans share, labeling their coy personalities as weaker and even something to fear and distrust, and it is a problem in society.

Shyness goes by many names — diffidence, timidity, social anxiety — and can be traced to numerous factors, including genetics and environment. Certain activities and/or people, and affect people can trigger the feelings of uneasiness in social situations in different ways — including mental illness. It’s a shame that, like the person referenced earlier, shyness is rarely understood and often suspect.

For a culture that values individuality and (ironically) uniqueness, Americans learn early that being shy is attributed to weakness, seen in geeks and similarly socially-inept/flawed/dangerous beings. Not being boisterous is often perceived as lacking self-confidence; being thoughtful instead of brash is interpreted as lacking assurance.

As a result, most people don’t know how to approach the seemingly timid, wondering whether they are aloof, cold, mute or plain, uptight assholes. This is often further from the truth. The introvert is often more modest and thoughtful of their feelings, surroundings and perceptions, often taxed — emotionally and physically — by social stimuli that the extrovert may feed off of for sustenance. There are millions of people that are introverted — many who hide it well under a mask of outspokenness — and bring much to the table in intelligence, passion and kindness, and because of not lining up with the uniform notion of the extroverted model, are seen as inferior beings.

See what you did to this poor girl?!

And pop culture, as it does, tends to blow up these inner fears and misunderstandings in a big-screen way. Whether it is the poindexter that is bullied or the murderer that lived quietly in one’s neighborhood (“He seemed to keep to himself”), the less assured are painted with a broad brush of pity, scorn and uncertainty. Resulting attitudes range from anxiousness (“You have to be afraid of the quiet ones”) to confusion, which further deflates the self-esteem and confidence of the person on the receiving end of these beliefs. Try to find a song, movie or book detailing the positive attributes of the reserved personality. (Though Diana King’s song, “Shy Guy,” sees the demure man as one that will be her love and her friend — never mind anything else he might bring to the table.)

It’s funny that some other cultures do not have the same aversion to the traits of the more reserved. The stereotype of Americans in many places is that of loud-mouthed, foolish hooligans (not the soccer/football fans) that act before they think — a far cry from their humble peer. It’s a different extreme, certainly, but that which can be viewed equally.

Really, though, it is not such a bad thing to think through situations before acting, having a greater sense of empathy or not following the crowd? Personally, I like the fact that while I am slow to warm up to people, I will process information and my surroundings before engaging, that I can sense emotions before acting, and that I take the feelings of others into consideration with my behavior. Being a wallflower has given me that sense of introspection (sometimes a bit too much), and makes me the person I am. No shame in that.

Do what the funny picture says!

But the question remains: how do you interact with a shy person? Like engaging with other human beings! (Strange, huh?) Being able to connect with anyone on a personal level involves taking the time and effort to understand a person’s core. Introvert or extrovert, you won’t fully know someone on first glance — ignoring the instant gratification that our society increasingly demands — and you have to put in time and work to get to know a person for who they really are. And while the quiet type might look like a challenge at first, breaking down that barrier and seeing the person within can be as rewarding — if not more so — as stripping away the shell of the more sociable.

So while the Ray J’s of the world might not be able to handle a shy person, a little time and effort will reward those who truly see themselves as human beings. Throw the negative perceptions out the window — even of those you might have of yourself – and you might find some comfort in the reserved.

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3 thoughts on “For the Love of Shyness

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