Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Why are we shy?

I have always considered myself a shy person, not as shy as many, perhaps, who cringe from social interaction or run. A friend of mine is worried about his 10-year-old son because he is too shy to speak up in class, even when he is the only one who knows the answer to the teacher's question.

In this case, the parents are both reserved, introspective so perhaps the boy's shyness is something he absorbed at home. Often it seems (to a lay outsider) that we are shamed as young children and this manifests itself as shyness around people.

In a recent article in Canada's National Post, Robert Fulford addressed the issue of shyness in discussing a book, "Shrinking Violets," by Joe Moran, whose historical and cultural research has turned up no scientific reason, given Darwin's theory of evolution, why so many millions of people are shy.  He considers it a mystery.  What use does it serve?

And I value mysteries--especially the often baffling and intriguing aspects of our behavior that defy expert analysis; besides, not everything in nature has a utilitarian purpose.

Fulford says some people have feelings of inadequacy that they don't acknowledge, so they experience shyness since they fear sounding stupid or looking uncool.  When people claim to hate parties, what they hate is small talk with people they hardly know. They haven't mastered the art, practiced by the British Royals and other celebrities, of asking questions of the stranger in an effort to shift attention away from themselves--and to help the awed stranger relax.

Before Moran makes a phone call, he writes out what he wants to say. Or he makes notes before going to a dinner or party so he is not at a loss for words. He finds this worrisome.   It seems to me that this is not some medical condition to worry about but to work on: with practice, the fear will gradually subside.

I think of my initial fear of standing before a class and lecturing, even though I had always wanted to be a teacher. I soon found ways to cope with this anxiety and have, in recent decades, come to enjoy speaking in public.

Although psychologists using the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) classify some people as having "social anxiety disorder," I wonder how useful such labels are for most people.  Recognizing the role of fear in our lives can be healthy--at least healthier than worrying about being shy.

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