Stripping ‘quiet’ of its negative connotations
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One person at a table near the front rises to her feet, and the room follows. The applause is thunderously loud, almost deafening, as claps and cheers intermingle in the massive conference hall. Viola Davis smiles at the front of the room, her deeply personal keynote speech having moved many in the room to tears.
It was well over a week ago and I’m still giddy over the fact that I was in the same building as and heard speeches from Sheryl Sandberg, Viola Davis, Condoleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright.
Admittedly, it was for only half an hour apiece, I was on the opposite side of that truly massive hall, there were 6,000 others in attendance, and, even squinting with glasses on, I could only discern their vague outlines in the distance.
Their presence and their speeches still blew my mind, though, way more than when I said hi to Kevin Jonas at Disneyland nearly a decade ago, my previous claim to ever meeting fame.
After the initial high died down, though, what stuck in my mind more than any of the admittedly truly inspirational keynote speeches was the message reiterated by the breakout session speakers, by the women manning the company booths and by seemingly everyone everywhere.
They all wanted to talk about speaking up, speaking out, the extrovert/introvert divide and how introversion doesn’t equate to shyness. I agree fully with that latter sentiment because for all that I’m an introvert, I’m not terribly shy, and most of the introverts I know aren’t either. In reinforcing the disparate natures of introversion and shyness, however, many a speaker from the conference synonymized shyness and quietness and then condemned them both in a way that didn’t sit right with me.
I know the importance and value of speaking up and voicing your ideas and opinions, but I don’t think being quiet, or even being shy, is necessarily an opposing characteristic.
I’m quiet. I don’t like saying it, even though I know it’s objectively true, because it has a fairly negative connotation. Quiet implies I’m a pushover, that I never speak up, that I don’t have anything impactful to say or that I don’t care enough to say it.
Sure, I don’t talk as much as other people, especially in public settings (and yes, I do see the irony of writing that in a newspaper printed for the entire campus), but I do speak when I want to and when I have to. Trust me, if I really want to say something, I do. I participate in classes and crack bad jokes until my friends groan and rant to whoever I’m talking to about whatever is on my mind. I talk plenty, but my innate tendency to stay on the quieter side — whether it be in the volume of my voice or the lengthiness of my speech — is not an undesirable characteristic.
It’s personality trait, just like any other, and not an inherently bad one, as much as people like to label it as so. To me, it just means that more often than not, you do what you do with a little less noise.
And when I’m not talking, most of the time (and here I’m talking about informal social situations), it’s because I’m genuinely fine with just listening and because I don’t feel a burning need to say anything at all.
So here’s a shoutout to all the quiet people: your personality isn’t inferior or undesirable. It makes you work a little more outside your comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean you have to change anything. Often, you can’t, and I know I definitely wouldn’t want to. It’s your story, and as Viola Davis once advised me and a few thousand of my favorite conference attendees, “own your story.”
This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on February 21, 2017.