They’ve just found a gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes.
— Jonathan Katz
It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so…excruciating. I speak as a certified Shy Guy.
Sure, I’m the clown who talks too loud, warbles off-key and has been known to wear a lampshade for a fedora. It’s all just an act to cover up my basic shyness. Shy people are not welcome in our society. Well-meaning friends devise plots to ‘bring us out of our shells’ and get us to ‘assert ourselves’. Type A personalities call us wusses, chickenbleeps, even cowards.
T’ain’t true, but we’re too shy to correct our detractors.
In China, shyness is seen as a welcome and respected character trait. There, it bespeaks a person who thinks before he/she acts; someone who has control of their impulses and behaves rationally rather than emotionally.
Different story on this continent where we don’t place much value on introspection. Gasbags like Don Cherry get celebrity status; thinkers like Michael Ignatieff get the boot. The Bible claims the meek are blessed; try to prove it at a hockey game or on the floor of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The worst thing about shyness? Opportunities missed.
Shy people don’t go for the brass ring. And that’s a shame — especially when the brass ring isn’t so far out of reach. James Matthew Barrie, the man who gave us Peter Pan, was pathologically shy. Invited to a dinner with A.E. Housman he sat mute beside him — even though he’d longed to meet the famous poet for a long time.
Afterwards, Barrie wrote this letter: ‘Dear Professor Houseman, I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man. Sincerely yours, J.M. Barrie.
Housman wrote back: ‘Dear Sir, I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man. Sincerely yours, A.E. Housman.
P.S. And now you’ve made it worse for you’ve spelled my name wrong.’
I’ll leave the last word to another man of letters, Garrison Keillor, who had to overcome painful shyness to become the best-selling author and story-telling genius that he is.
But he never forgot (or vanquished) his shyness. In the end, he decided he doesn’t want to: Keillor wrote: “Shyness is not a disability or a disease to be overcome. It is simply the way we are. And in our own quiet way we are secretly proud of it.”
Amen to that: I’m shy — wanna make something of it?
Arthur Black is a regular columnist.