As many of you know, I’m on a whirlwind book tour for the QUIET paperback. So far I’ve visited NYC, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Denver. Having now spent many evenings in succession with you, my readers, I would like to tell you about the way you transform a public space, about your power to infuse a setting with your quiet strength.
At every event the mood has been thoughtful, sincere, caring. Before the events began, you waited patiently. As I spoke, you listened intently. After I finished, you rose from your seats to ask intelligent questions– no grandstanding, no speaking to draw attention to yourself. You asked questions because you had questions to ask — for no greater or lesser reason than that. And then, when all the formal talking was done, as I signed your books, you told me your own stories — one inspiring tale after another.
In Boston, I did another Q and A at the Harvard Bookstore, this one with the great Carl Schwartz, the Harvard Medical School researcher I profiled in Chapter 4 of QUIET. After it was over, he surveyed the crowd and remarked,
“This is the 30%. Here they are. Imagine if they ruled the world.”
I nodded, touched.
Of course, I don’t really think the 30% should rule the world, and I’m sure that neither does Dr. Schwartz. We both know that we need both kinds.
But that night, it was hard not to love the 30%.*
*NOTE: Dr. Schwartz used the 30% statistic for the number of introverts in the population. Other studies suggest that the percentage is closer to 50%.
As you may know, I’m out on The QUIET Book Tour right now.
So far I’ve been in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Portland, and one other stop that — for purely personal reasons — stands as my favorite appearance of all:
It was there that I shared the stage with my old law school friend, Angie Kim, whom I hadn’t seen since we graduated 20 years ago!
We picked up right where we left off, with the cheerfully extroverted Angie sharing her surprise, when she read QUIET, to learn how scared I’d been about public speaking during our law school days.
Our entire conversation, mostly consisting of topics I haven’t addressed at other stops on my tour, was broadcast on Slate Radio’s new podcast, “Live at Politics and Prose“, and can be listened to below. I hope you enjoy it!
Enter them into SoundCloud’s commenting feature. I might use your thoughts in a future article.
A few weeks ago, I took my husband to a concert as a surprise. He had no idea where we were going until we got to the box office. His best guess was Ethiopian food, which we’ve both been craving — and this wasn’t entirely off the mark.
We spent the evening with Idan Raichel, whose band is heavily influenced by Ethiopian as well as Middle Eastern music.
In addition to his musical gifts, Idan Raichel — the Israeli singer-songwriter and musician behind The Idan Raichel Project — is an interesting figure with a hushed approach to moving listeners’ emotions.
LEFT: My personal favorite, “Hinech Yafah,” based on the Song of Songs. Listen to it late in the evening.
Idan has gathered a collective of 95 musicians from all over the world who perform in many different languages (Hebrew, Amharic, Arabic, Zulu, etc.) and musical idioms. He is handsome, charismatic, and enigmatic. And also, quite obviously, shy and gentle.
During most of the performance, Idan stationed himself behind a keyboard so far to the side of the stage that it was hard to see him. His three main singers were front and center, and all eyes focused on them throughout the evening, even though he was clearly the spiritual core. Every so often he would come out to dance with the other performers — he’s a nice dancer — but quickly retreat behind his keyboard on the wings of the stage.
At the midway point of the show, Idan made his way center-stage to proudly introduce his musicians, one by one, so they could claim their applause. But when the time came to take a bow at the end of the evening, he was nowhere to be seen.
After returning home, I went online with the hope of learning more about Idan’s life story, and wasn’t surprised to discover that he has managed to assemble a collective of musicians who transcend borders: Ethiopian Jews, Palestinians, Brazilians, South Africans (the list goes on).
…Or that he has written a song titled “Speaking Quietly.”
Update: Idan wants to share his music with you, for free! Simply email “irpgift AT gmail dot com” to receive an automatic reply containing a link full of his beautiful music. And don’t forget to thank him too!
Which are your favorite QUIET musicians?
Last week, @TheAtlantic magazine ran a piece called “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School,” by Jessica Lahey.
They have graciously agreed to run my response, which includes five suggestions for how shy kids can be encouraged to speak up for themselves in the classroom.
Obviously this is a very complex issue. How do you think shy kids can be encouraged to speak bravely in the classroom?
This is a guest post from Brittany Wood, the courageous author of “The Shyness Project” blog.
They called me “the shy one.”
That’s it, nothing more. The shy one.
For the last 19 years of my life, I’ve heard that I’m shy from peers, teachers, parents – even strangers.
What they said made me believe I was a shy person, and that that was my biggest downfall. I never felt they were right, though, and I didn’t understand why they called attention to it. That awful, audacious question, – “Why are you so quiet?” – always seemed so condescending, as if there was something wrong with me that needed fixing.
In 6th grade, I was bullied. My bullies made me believe I was a shy, boring loser who nobody liked. I let these labels seep into my identity. They thought shyness and quietness was weird and pitiful. Whether they were embarrassing me in the car each morning when I didn’t sing with them to the latest songs, or saying terrible lies about me online, I never felt comfortable and dreaded each day.
After middle school, I gradually became a much more self-assured person. I learned that nothing was wrong with me, and that I was only made to feel that way because they were acting out of insecurity. By putting the target on me, they were making themselves feel safe from ridicule. Once I was away from them and made real friends, I learned to respect myself, to be confident, and to never let anyone walk over me like that again. I didn’t allow others to put me down anymore. If they did, I distanced myself from them, and focused on the people who truly loved and accepted me.
Near the end of the first semester of my senior year of high school, I started thinking seriously about my future. I had just finished reading an inspiring book by Sean Aiken, who worked 52 jobs in 52 weeks, called The One-Week Job Project. I was amazed by his bravery and tenacity, and I decided then that I too wanted to do a one-year project.
But what was holding me back?
Shyness. Fear of failure. Fear of giving up. I felt like there were many things I would never be able to do because I was shy.
But New Year’s was approaching, and I began to feel excited by the prospects of change and self-improvement. Every year I would set numerous goals for myself like exercising more, eating healthier, and helping out more around the house. Even though I always started these goals with enthusiasm, it wouldn’t take long before I would lose interest and give up on them.
This year was different. An idea hit me. What was the one thing that I felt held me back the most and was going to keep me from trying and achieving all of the things I wanted to in life?
Excited yet uncertain, I started brainstorming how I could turn this into a one-year project. I researched how to overcome shyness as much as I could, and mapped out a yearlong plan to tackle my fears.
Then I started a blog to reach people and share my journey. I wasn’t doing it just for me; I wanted to do it for anyone who had ever been labeled “shy.” I wanted to educate people about shyness and show how simple tasks can be obstacles for a shy person. I wanted to express how it felt to be looked down upon for being shy, and how labeling and jokes have a much more painful effect than most people realize.
I tackled goals to talk to strangers, to reconnect with friends, to participate in class, to dress confidently, to allow myself to be vulnerable, and to give public speeches. I opened up my once private life and disclosed the very thing I once purposefully never talked about, my feelings of shyness.
I doubted myself a lot in the beginning, and it was hard to leave my comfort zone as much as I did, but the passion I felt for my project and all the support I received from some amazingly kind bloggers pushed me to keep going, to keep challenging myself.
One of the most challenging tasks I pursued was to join Toastmasters and practice giving speeches. I was terrified of public speaking, but I’d heard that Toastmasters was a great way to overcome public speaking fears. I read how Toastmasters had improved people’s lives even. One quote really spoke to me, “Do the thing you fear, and the fear of death is certain.” I decided that if everyone I’d read about could do this, then I could do this too.
In my first speech, I took a big leap and shared my shyness and bullying story. It wasn’t easy for me to talk about this very sensitive subject, but I believed sharing my experiences would allow my group to better understand why I joined and also to understand more about the struggles that can come along with living a life of shyness.
As it turns out, my ability to give speeches and do things I fear has changed how I view myself. Before when I was called shy, I believed I had to accept what others said as the truth. Now that I know more about introversion from books, articles and “The Power of Introverts” blog, I’ve realized that a lot of my natural quietness has been mistaken for social inhibition. In truth, however, sometimes I just prefer to listen and take in more information than talk, and to be in small groups rather than large ones. I do feel shy in certain situations, but overall those feelings aren’t central to my identity, and there is much more to me than that.
I love how my introversion has allowed me to have strong empathy, to be a deep thinker, and to genuinely connect with others. Introverts are valuable assets to society, whether or not they find themselves feeling shy in some situations like me, or not at all.
Every action I’ve taken to expand my comfort zone has helped me grow as a person. I realize that I’m capable of anything I set my mind to, and no longer will I let what others say about me hold me back. I have also become aware of the positives of being more inwardly focused, and have learned that accepting yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to improve yourself.
When we feel like something is holding us back from living our lives to the fullest, it is important that we identify what it is that is limiting us and what we can do to take this weight off of our shoulders. Until we do this, we will continue to feel powerless and overwhelmed. Through mindfulness and passion for the change we seek, however, we can begin to take back control of our lives, and to start living the life we have always wanted.
Brittany Wood is the author of the The Shyness Project blog. Over the course of 2011, she recorded her year-long journey to confront her fears. She believes in the value of shyness and introversion, and hopes to help change the message in our culture that being inwardly focused is something to look down upon.
‘NO MAN IS AN ISLAND’
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. ~ JOHN DONNE
Did you know that political scientists call Holocaust rescuers — that singular group of people who risked their lives and wellbeing to save others — “John Donne’s people”? This is based on the famous poem, above — “Each man’s death diminishes me,/For I am involved in mankind.”
It’s a beautiful appellation for an extraordinary group of people, but I wonder if even it goes far enough. Holocaust rescuers didn’t just involve themselves in mankind — they risked everything for it (including the lives of their children, which is the piece that stops me in my tracks.). I’ve been reading a lot about rescuers lately, and their courage seems impossible.
Yet apparently it isn’t. The book “Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” by Eva Fogelman, is filled with stories of John Donne’s people.