Have you ever been told that you’re ‘too quiet’? If you’re anything like me you’ll have heard this countless times throughout your life. Some people are perplexed by quietness and introversion. It is a very western concept that extroversion is seen as the norm and that if you’re a quieter person, you’re the anomaly or the ‘shy’ one. As a young pupil I was the quiet kid, and as an educator I became hyper aware of the quiet kids within the classroom. Being quiet, at least as far as I’ve noticed, has always been considered one of those quirks that needs to slowly be developed.
The thing is, being quiet is actually pretty awesome. Many people who are considered ‘quiet’ aren’t like that all the time. Some of us are quiet in big groups, but talk the ears off of our closest friends and family. Some of us just prefer to listen and observe. Quiet people are brilliant listeners, keen observers, and we’re often well tuned in to the world. Being quiet is different to being shy. Shyness can be related to wanting to speak and not feeling confident or comfortable enough to do so. Quietness is simply the absence of noise. What kind of a work would it be if we were all shouting over each other constantly?
Often, being quiet can bring with it some worry. I’ve sat in many a room with a many a friend or acquaintance or colleague, and felt anxious about not saying enough. At times, I’ve felt the need to try to make small talk or fill frequent silences with this and that. But in all honestly I don’t always have the urge to talk. I like looking and listening and watching and understanding and simply just being.
It’s not just okay to be quiet. It’s actually a wonderful thing. Being quiet allows us space to see and feel and witness the world around us. If you have a quiet friend, a quiet child in your classroom, or maybe a colleague who doesn’t speak up as much as the rest of the team, try to see this as a beautiful and wonderful introspective gift. We are all different, and there isn’t one fixed way to be. Loud or quiet, we each contribute something unique and important to the world around us. In loudness there is movement and flurries of revelation. In quietness there is peace, understanding and stillness, and we each make up two halves of an ever continuing conversation.
We live in a society in which many of our life choices are labelled as us ‘giving up’. For example, when we hear that someone has stopped pursuing a lifelong dream, or maybe moved back into their parents home, we feel like they’ve lost out on something. We might even feel a sense of sadness and pity, and the cruellest among us might even label that person a failure. “They must be devastated”, we say. But the thing is, we can’t assume that when someone takes a turn, chooses a different path, or takes a step back, that they are ‘giving up’.
What you envisage as ‘giving up’ might be another persons life defining choice. Perhaps someone quit a high paying job in London to return home and start a non-profit organisation, perhaps a seasoned west end actress decided she wants to quit the industry to become a historian, or maybe a university student decided to leave education to start up a cosmetics company. Without knowing the full context we might see a failed business man, a washed up actress and a college drop out, but we don’t see the full picture of their decisions nor the reaping of their eventual rewards. Perhaps these people ‘gave up’ on their situations because they were unhappy, exhausted, or struggling to cope.
I always found it cruel when I heard people talking about how their friends and acquaintances had ‘given up’. Some people even take this stance when it comes to complete strangers. They say stuff like, “He’s let himself go” and ‘Wow, she could have really been something if only she hadn’t given up” etc.. etc.. and so forth. The thing is, even when we think a goal or a dream is truly worth the struggle, we don’t know how soul-crushing, life-altering and embittering that journey can be until we’re on it.
People very rarely ‘quit’ or ‘give up’ on things that make them truly happy, relaxed, content and fulfilled. Perhaps for a time they felt that way and things changed, or they were trying to fight and fight for something that made their life miserable. I know of many people who have gone through struggle after struggle and finally realised that the illustrious and almost impossible end point of their ‘dream’ isn’t even what they want anymore. It’s good to fight for things we know will end up right, to strive to see things and do things we want to do, but if the expense of all this is loneliness, bitterness and burn out, we have to decide ourselves whether it’s worth it. Unless you are significantly hurting yourself or somebody else in a profound and drastic way, you have every right to say ‘enough is enough’. The wonderful thing is that ‘giving up’ can actually lead to countless opportunities and possibilities.
It takes a lot for someone to give up on a dream, and it’s harsh of us to belittle their decision and assume that they’ve failed. I think that sometimes, it takes ‘giving up’ to understand what you really want. This doesn’t mean that the journey towards your goal served no purpose, nor that you won’t someday return to the same path. It just means you might find your way there via a new route, or a different mode of transport. Maybe you’ll take someone else with you this time, or you’ll be more cautious along the way. Life is a series of choices and events, and you should never feel judged for ‘giving up’ on something that makes you feel anything less than wonderful.