I have been regularly attending a book study at my church every other Wednesday, and after the meeting yesterday I asked the leader if she had an extra copy of the next book that I could borrow. As she fished around for the paperback she told me regretfully that she wished she'd asked my opinion during the discussion, because she was sure I had something to say. Naturally, all intelligent thoughts flew from my mind and I only managed to respond with some offhand answer about not having enough context since we hadn't read the entire book.
This morning I woke up feeling the need to write her a message apologizing for my lack of participation and giving a brief explanation as to why, along with a link to my blog so she can gain some insight into my mess of a mind. This mental note turned into a lengthy letter, and I felt it was slightly awkward to randomly send someone a message like that. And then I decided that this was really something people needed to know, so I made a compromise with myself and decided to write something, as my gut told me to, but put it on my blog as an open letter of sorts rather than directing it to an individual.
Why did I feel compelled to write this? Perhaps because she reminds me of my favorite teachers and professors. They seemed to see straight into my soul, and rather than judge me for my silence, they would lament that I could not speak. They would pull me aside after class and commend me for the essay they'd just graded, following up with a comment not unlike the book study leader's remark. I never knew what to say, but I appreciated the confidence booster more than they'll ever know.
There is a common misconception that those of us sitting on the sidelines in silence are exceptionally arrogant and judgmental--that we think ourselves better than everyone else, and refuse to stoop so low as to converse with those around us. Indeed, we do judge, but no more than anyone else on this earth. We do not think ourselves more intelligent, but rather fear the opposite. We remain silent for fear that if we speak, all doubt will be removed and people will deem us stupid or ignorant. This stems from the fact that when asked a question or otherwise put on the spot, our minds go mercilessly blank, leaving us to flounder for something remotely intelligent to say. It is a vicious cycle.
"Shy" is a hopelessly inadequate word, bringing to mind images of a young, silent, wide-eyed, fragile girl. I am not fragile. Do not pity me. I grew up being told that I am strong, that I can do whatever I put my mind and heart to. Having recently entered the workforce I realize that there are monetary restrictions to what I can do (I'm not an invincible superhero, either). However, buried somewhere beneath my social anxieties is a confidence that cannot be shaken: my mother's voice--my own voice--whispering encouragement. This surfaces on the very rare, monumental occasions when I do decide to speak up in a group. More often, though, it shows through my writing. I will willingly and boldly shout my thoughts and ideas on a page, so long as I think them useful and necessary.
I am not perfect, and I do not pretend to be. But if I do not sufficiently answer your question when you ask it, please know that I will come up with something eloquent to say while lying sleeplessly upon my pillow several hours later.