Thursday, April 8, 2010

What you see isn't always what you get

Living in a culture built for speed makes it hard to gather anything but superficial details beyond the first glance. We want everything now, 15 minutes ago, yesterday, but some things take time to understand and process. You can't "see" thoughtfulness, kindness, introspect, empathy, or experience, during a once over. You can see fashion faux pas, bad hair days, some clues about financial disposal. Many of us often predetermine lives and their significance through this limited vision. We view people through our own colored lenses. Labels come quickly and easily, but perhaps inaccurately. We can see whatever we choose or we can limit the view to fit squarely into ready-made constraints.

For me, some of my own limitations have left me speechless. Worse yet, those very limitations have made it nearly impossible to explain myself. I am shy. Or socially anxious. Or introverted. Clinically, I have auditory processing weaknesses and attention deficit disorder in addition to shyness. I can also appear arrogant. Or snobbish. Or self-righteous. I am generally taking a few moments to process or I have attended to some thought triggered by a scent, or term, or the color of a scarf…..However, I do sometimes feel and express; humor, confidence and liveliness when I am among a few safe and valued friends.

Often when I have difficulty speaking, listening gets very tricky. The listening part is compromised when I am internally counting to ten because I just made a deal that I would add to a conversation after counting to ten. I probably appear distracted and disinterested or disengaged at those times. I don't generally appear like a wilting flower or a doormat. At times I can seem nervous and I do stammer or wildly use my hands while attempting to make sense with my verbal output. In the worst scenario, I begin to tremble and turn red. I become self-conscious and avert eye contact. Shyness, however, is not all encompassing, one size fits all.

Maybe this is no surprise, but I find perceptions and first impressions are somewhat limited by the beholder. Beyond the stereotypical concepts and beliefs that are available through visual scrutiny, there are cultural beliefs and values that may predetermine how others see me. In some cultures and within individual preferences, being quiet is considered thoughtful, and respectful. I may appear to be a deep thinker- of course I am. In some cultures and individual preferences, being quiet is considered weak, uncertain, lacking in opinion, and not very worthy. Still others may view it as mysterious, or intelligent. Maybe frightened, too dependent, and not very bright. I am many things, but not very “typical”.

So what does one do when she is attempting to express herself about issues she is passionate about or hold up her end of the lightest conversation? Initially, I avoided speaking around people I was unfamiliar with. I would shake, break out in hives, turn beat red and stammer out something barely audible and hardly worthy of capturing anyone's attention. Culturally speaking, (no pun intended) I developed the skill of being able to drink with the men. A few, couple of, several beers or alcoholic beverages can loosen up anyone's vocal chords and soften the worst of inhibitions. I have enjoyed a few good rounds of Molly Malone to soften the heart of many a stern-faced bar hound. I am not so very proud of this, well except for the singing, or strategy to avoid speaking. Unfortunately, it did seem to provide temporary relief to shyness, but prolonged the inability to build effective social skills.

I eventually faced this problem from a more therapeutic approach, the Self-Help book! I read about shyness and researched shyness and embraced shyness. The biggest impact these studies had on me was discovering shy people spend an inordinate time concerned about themselves. Cultural Landmine! I stepped right on it and it exploded with such force I had no choice but to confront it and survive the blast. My ethnic and religious background does not condone self-involvement. It is certainly considered sinful. There's a motivator! (Well maybe not, my religious background seems to consider a great deal sinful.)

Thinking of shyness in these terms really made me evaluate what was going on. Why on Earth did I believe myself so important that what I had to say would somehow alter the winds or the alignment of the stars? Did people really care if I was sharing something worthy of focusing a great deal of attention on? Did I listen to others with such intensity that I somehow expected others would be listening to me? Not very often. Sometimes I was counting to ten to simply agree or say hello- by the time I finished cutting deals and making promises, the conversation changed, the conversant had moved away or on to a different topic or possibly started sleeping. The problem is, I have a lot to say! Sometimes I feel like a fast moving Yankee trapped in a southerners unhurried expressive drawl. Slow down, join someone on their great, big, old porch and find out who they are- they may just have a bit more to share.

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