For a moment, just listen.
What do you hear? I hear a television, a washing machine, the buzz of the furnace, my husband, the train wailing on the track by our apartment. I rarely experience anything resembling silence. When I go to work, there’s music, coworkers, anywhere from twenty to a hundred people, the sound of the air conditioning, the sounds from the kitchen, the dishwasher, the clank of pans and the clink of silverware. Even if you work in an office, you probably hear music, typing, voices, phones ringing.
I can’t recall the last time I heard silence.
I find that when I come home from work, I need silence. I need to be alone.
There’s a topic that I sense is about to become hot news: introversion.
For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed being alone. For years at school I was painfully shy, but even when I was within my comfort zone with family or friends, I needed to be alone. I spent hours and hours in my room. I had my nose perpetually wedged into a book. I had maybe one or two close friends. Even if I enjoyed spending time with people, I would wander off to recharge my inner batteries.
I remember growing up how people would tell me to be more outgoing. I had enough people tell me to be more confident that I think I started believing that I lacked confidence. Ask most of my family about Emmie in primary school, and they’d say I had some flair. Something happened along the way that plummeted me into myself to the point where I almost stopped speaking altogether for years. I got past that, but even though the intense agony of social anxiety has faded from my life, there comes a point in most of my days where I need to be alone and silent.
I feel that way now. The noises that I hear make me flinch away from them. This happens sometimes after a long day at work — the intensity of being surrounded by people who all want something from me creates an atmosphere that is overstimulating, and when I arrive home, all I want is silence.
This morning I woke up early to go grocery shopping. Whilst standing in the line to pay, I saw this:
I seldom buy magazines, but I reached out and plucked that one off the shelf. While at the Writer’s Digest Conference, I heard of a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. She has built momentum even before the release of her book, talking about how introverts get overlooked in this world. How in a country that rewards and values the outgoing, the busy, and the boisterous, those who fall on the quiet end of the spectrum are often by-passed.
Tonight at work, a coworker sent me down the “middle alley,” what we call the central row of tables in our dining room. Nonplussed, I followed his instruction and found myself facing a little guy named Evan who I’ve known since I began working there. The last few times I’ve seen him, he’s acted very quiet. He’ll look me in the eye with these huge blue eyes, tiny mouth set in a line. He just looks. I smile at him and say hi and talk to him, tell him how big he’s gotten. He knows my face; I’ve seen him at least once or twice a month since he was born. Tonight his parents apologized for how shy he was acting.
Why do parents feel the need to do that? What’s wrong with being quiet? Little Evan knows me. I didn’t feel rejected by his silence. He acknowledged me by looking right at me. He didn’t take his eyes of me for about five minutes. He’s barely a year old. That he didn’t offer me a toy or smile or coo at me — that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. He’s precious and sweet, and I’m glad I get to see him around.
I remember as a child being marked off in class for not participating. I got top grades in everything, but when it came to group work, I got marked off — either that or everyone else goofed off while I did all the work. This is a normal experience among introverts; the outgoing, extroverted children participate (sometimes inappropriately), and often they are rewarded and applauded both by their peers and by their teachers and coaches.
This world values extroversion, but introversion has its merits as well. Multitudes of writers, scientists, artists, philosophers, physicists, leaders, and professionals have made a difference — and are introverts. There’s something to be said for quiet — for caution and contemplation.
In all honesty, hearing about Susan Cain’s book (and seeing the cover story of TIME) gave me an odd sense of relief. There have been times where I felt downright shamed by being an introvert.
As my day trickles to a close and many of the sounds have dimmed to a hushed murmur, I feel validated. The quiet calms me. My husband’s presence is a warm comfort. Away from the din of the restaurant for another eight hours, I can breathe and unwind and simply be. Like a third of our population, it is the silence and the stillness of being alone that rejuvenates me.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Have you felt restrained by your temperament before? How? How do you recharge your batteries?
Does silence frighten you?
I challenge you to spend ten minutes in silence, alone with your thoughts, regardless of your personality type. Let me know how it goes.
***In case anyone’s wondering where I fall on the Myer’s-Briggs spectrum, I am an INFJ. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeler, Judger.***
The Upside of Being an Introvert, TIME Cover Story by Bryan Walsh
Don’t Call Introverted Children Shy, TIME Essay by Susan Cain
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Amazon)
- What’s Wonderful? Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (space2live.net)
- Introverts are undervalued in today’s society, says author (thestar.com)
- Quiet, Please: Unleashing ‘The Power Of Introverts’ (npr.org)