A friend posted this question on Facebook: “My dad discussed with our family that being shy is a form of selfishness. What do you think?”
She later explained that some of her Dad’s grandchildren are extremely shy.
In that context, I responded:
“As a very non-shy (AKA extroverted and outgoing) person who knows many shy people, I think that is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. Personality studies label these People as “white,” “introverted”, “IN**”, “analytical”. To call them selfish is to deny who they are at their core. It’s to assume that we all have to be the same, which is to deny what clearly the Scriptures taught, especially in the New Testament writings of Paul. We should be different, And rejoice and celebrate our differences. And that includes people being shy. Non-acceptance and judgement is one of the highest forms of selfishness that there is.
I’m sorry for going off on someone that deserves your respect, but if it were me, I would keep those grandchildren away from him until he learned to accept them and love them as they are, or at least until he agrees to not try to change their behavior. The message that he’s giving them is “you’re not good enough. You’re selfish. Change who you are.” And that’s not a message grandchildren should hear from anyone, especially from a grandparent.”
Someone else responded “Whoa, Dude … he loves his grandchildren unconditionally!”
I said: “If he is telling his grandchildren that they need to be more outgoing or they’re selfish, I don’t see that as unconditional love.”
My friend then responded: “He said it was a form of selfishness. My dad adores his family and grandkids. He likes to have discussions and evoke interesting thoughts. His motive was for his family to try to become more outgoing. Being extremely shy may be crippling in school, because you’re to shy to ask questions. You’re too shy to make friends. You’re too shy to express yourself Ect. His motives are pure.”
To which I said: “Although your Dad’s motives may be pure, and although he may be the greatest Dad ever (and, knowing you, I have no doubt he is a great Dad), I still am developing less tolerance for people who try to change who people are. The very statements you list: “You’re too shy to … ” is a negative judgement. Shyness is not (always) a form of selfishness. It is a state of being.
I work with a lot of engineers. The world would look at them and say “Wow. They are shy. They’ll never get anywhere.” Your dad might even say they are selfish, because they are not sharing as often as some of us might like. But they are geniuses, they do what they do better than anyone else in the world, they are changing the world … and I’m okay with them being shy and reserved.
Maybe this hits home not just because of my daughter, who has self-image issues because people / the world told her she should be different than she is. Maybe this hits home because I’ve often wanted to be more shy. More quiet. More reserved. Not because of who I am in my core, but because of how people told me I should be.
How many times in my life was I told “You’re too out there. You’re too outgoing. You’re too intense. You’re too … “. And I believed people who said that, because I knew many of them (supposedly) loved me. But anytime you tell someone — especially a child — “You’re too _________”, that is judgemental. Many of them — tragically, ESPECIALLY the shy ones, will hear: “You’re not appropriate, you’re not the way you should be, you must change to fit the norm, more importantly, you must change to fit what I think is normal, your life is wrong, live it differently.”
And I think that’s wrong.
One final thought that struck me: I recently asked a friend of my friend’s to karaoke the group song “Love Shack” with me, my friend, and some other people. She declined, stating “I’m shy. I’ll just watch. That’s not my thing.” Was she being selfish? What would your response have been if I would have told her that she was being not only silly, but also selfish? That she should open up more and be more out there and share more?”
One final thought, which is not my own, but which I think is brilliant: “There are at least 13 different kinds of intelligence going on in the human brain and we all have varying levels of those and use them to communicate with one another in different ways. Just because I judge someone as being shy might just be me misjudging the way in which they are communicating with me. If I’m deaf, does that mean no one is capable of speaking? We need to move past the judgement and dismissal of others and learn to “hear” what they are communicating through whatever other language they are using to speak. ie.facial expression, body language. All of the arts are just such languages, music, dance, fine art are all ways in which we express ourselves. In an age of autism it is becoming more and more clear we must start learning to speak other languages than just the verbal ones. Perhaps instead of labeling others as “shy” we need to consider the possibility that we are just not fluent in whatever language that person is naturally fluent and shift the responsibility of learning to ourselves rather than waiting for them to learn our limited way of thinking.“