I have always hated the saying, “it’s always the quiet ones.”
After a mass shooting or a despicable murder, this is a common refrain. Reporters interview neighbors who knew the suspect and they usually mention how unassuming the killer was. He was quiet and kept to himself.
I can’t recall any specific events or words spoken, but what I do remember is the anger I always feel after hearing others agree.
“It’s always the quiet ones,” someone inevitably says.
(Forgetting the extroverted charm of Ted Bundy, of course).
And the audience at home, listening in rapt tension, generally agrees with this. They start looking at the quiet people in their lives and wonder: is he quiet because he’s plotting something?
Chances are the answer is no. Chances are that quiet person is simply that–just quiet–and wants to be left alone. That person is either suffering from social anxiety, is an introvert, or doesn’t like to make a spectacle of himself.
Personally, I’ve never been victimized by a shy or quiet person. Quite the opposite: it’s people who can’t shut up who bother me. They run their mouths until they say something offensive. They can’t take no for an answer. They bully and tease. They steal the spotlight, interrupt, and berate.
But it’s the quiet ones who are suspect, who are carefully watched for any signs of psychopathy, But why, other than the methodical plotting of serial murder, would someone be shy or quiet?
Shy and quiet are not the same thing. Shy means you’re afraid to talk to people (generally), while being quiet means you just choose not to speak.
There are many reasons why a person may choose not to speak to others, but if you’re deciding every single day to keep your mouth shut, there must be a reason for it. As a quiet person myself, I can provide some insight into two reasons.
Insecurity and ineptitude.
As I said earlier, I’ve found that most people don’t trust the quiet. And the quieter you are, the more suspicious you appear. A quiet person leaves everything up to interpretation. They are a blank slate. People are natural gossips and always curious, and so they fill in that blank slate with assumptions and opinions and details, many of which aren’t true at all and are usually negative.
Exacerbating this truth is another: talking to people is difficult. Choosing topics and the right words to express them. Reading your audience. Figuring out what other people want from you or how you should act. Balancing talking with listening. Some quiet people simply can’t navigate all of this trouble.
The quiet person knows he’s different and lacking something fundamental to being human–the easy ability to communicate. He listens to the conversations around him, perhaps wishing he knew what to say. He can tell the people around him think he’s weird and awkward, heightening insecurities he already has.
He’s probably tried and failed to talk to people with ease and charm, and so now the prospect is frightening. And most people avoid their fears. In the end, it’s just easier just to keeps his mouth shut.
In college, I took a sculpture class. (Side note: I suck at making sculptures).
My professor was young, maybe in his mid 30s, and handsome for a professor. He was “hip.” I think he had a nose ring. He found out one day that I liked the band Kings of Leon (a brand-spanking new band back then) and burned their most recent album on a CD for me.
He was a man of few words, always watching and listening, smiling to himself. I sensed that he was always thinking about something deep and fascinating, but would never share it with anyone.
He was a good professor and from what I could tell, a talented artist. He was intelligent and interesting and paid attention to the people around him. He was quiet but not cut off from the outside world.
One day in class, he said to no one in particular that most people talk and talk and talk, but rarely say anything at all. Truer words were never spoken, and they bring me to the second motivation for being quiet–modesty.
Some people put themselves on display. Every thought and feeling is expressed, every achievement and talent boasted about, every opinion shared openly. A quiet person like my sculpture professor doesn’t like to impose themselves on others.
That person understands there’s a time to say what you think, and a time to keep it to yourself. Or maybe he doesn’t think his thoughts, feelings, achievements, talents, or opinions are interesting enough to share with the world. Or he just wants to hide, averse even to positive attention.
Introverts and extroverts don’t really understand each other.
I can’t comprehend someone deriving energy and excitement from being around other people. Other people tire me out–and that’s how introverts function.
To an introvert, the outside world can be a bit too over-stimulating at times and when that happens, they retreat into the inner sanctum of their own thoughts. They are comfortable with being quiet and are always thinking about something, real or imagined.
The introvert has an internal energy meter. When she goes out into the outside world, with all of its stimuli and people, that meter is full. With every conversation, no matter how minor, the meter decreases, like a battery. Eventually, there’s no energy left and the introvert needs to recharge.
At this point, the introverted brain literally loses the ability to form words and sentences, or listen to the words and sentences spoken by others. It’s a crushing fatigue, pulling the introvert down into quiet oblivion.
Energy returns only in an environment of solitude, quiet, and stillness. A calming, familiar place, a solo activity, a nap. And once the energy bar is full again, she can go back into the world, fresh-faced and ready to speak.
I’ve never understood why quiet, shy people inspire such suspicion and distrust. Of course, this depends on the person and their overall attitude and behavior. A quiet person with an intense, borderline inappropriate stare is a creep. A quiet woman with an air of confidence is a snob.
But are they secretly plotting something sinister? Likely not. More likely they simply don’t know how to start the conversation.
Are you an extrovert or introvert? How do you feel at the prospect of talking to people? And if you’re not shy at all, what is your impression of people who are?
Photo Courtesy Pexels and Himanshu Sharma