Last week I had an opportunity to extend my evening out in New York City. I was invited to join a group of people, which numbered about 10. I quickly responded with, “thank you for the invite, but I just don’t do well in larger groups.” I finished up what remained of my beer, worked on a piece of writing, grabbed some delicious pizza and made my way home. I woke up the next morning thinking about my answer.
“Quiet people always know more than they seem. Although very normal, their inner world is by default fronted mysterious and therefore assumed weird. Never underestimate the social awareness and sense of reality in a quiet person; they are some of the most observant, absorbent persons of all.”
― Criss Jami, Healology
I questioned my decision to head home somewhat early the prior evening. I wondered what opportunities would have presented themselves had I taken up the individuals offer. I asked myself if I was operating under old thought and belief patterns, or had I simply made a choice that had served my best interest.
My transition from grammar school to high school wasn’t an easy one. I went from a pretty normal sociable kid, to completely shut down and out of my element. I was labeled as shy and quiet. The cute boy who would turn red when you talked to him. I always felt nervous speaking up, and when I got called on to talk in front of the class, internally I felt like I was going to die. Those thoughts and feelings would continue on through college, where I would learn I suffered from this thing apparently called social anxiety. Even now in adult hood, those feelings and sensations pop up from time to time, however I am now seeing them through a different lens. Am i really shy and socially angst, or have you labeled me so?
When I first enter into a larger group setting, I tend to observe my surroundings. I like to watch people and see how they interact. What makes these people tick, what are the topics being discussed, who is bullshitting who? As the minutes go by, it always seems to get louder. Background music gets turned up, individual voices get louder, and I’m suddenly being drowned out by a sea of excessive noise. Personally, I just don’t find talking over others that appealing, so I begin to shut down and eventually tune it all out. Some of us aren’t really trying to avoid the situation in front of us, it’s just we haven’t been given the chance to shine within it. I’ll admit, it’s hard for me to adapt to certain situations, but I don’t think that’s changing anytime soon. It’s not out of stubbornness, it’s just stuff I deal with. Want to engage me in conversation, pull me aside into a quiet corner and ask me about the planet, my favorite song and the lyrics behind them, or general human relationship topics. I’ll be just as loud as the person screaming to have their voice be heard in a large social setting. Sit me on a balcony while watching the sun set talking about life, scratching a dogs butt, and you’ll probably lose track of time. Actually I’m pretty confident, you will lose track of time.
We’re all guilty of labeling, it’s just a fact of life. I label the loud and obnoxious, you label the quiet and decent. What if for once though, we took a step back, stopped labeling and just began being? What if the next time I’m invited out into a large group I accept the offer, observe my surroundings and it turns out there’s another quiet person in the group just aching to have an intimate conversation? What if the next time someone engages you in a deep conversation you don’t run from it, but stick around in that quiet space and learn something new about yourself? Just because we got labeled one thing, doesn’t mean we actually are.
“Often times, a person will think they know you by piecing together tiny facts and arranging those pieces into a puzzle that makes sense to them. If we don’t know ourselves very well, we’ll mistakenly believe them, and drift toward where they tell us to swim, only to drown in our own confusion.
Here’s the truth: it’s important to take the necessary steps to find out who you are. Because you hold endless depths below the surface of a few facts and pieces and past decisions. You aren’t only the ripples others can see. You are made of oceans.”
― Victoria Erickson