An antidote for shyness

Between winter and spring – Easter week – is a time one often reminisces. Such, is that time now for “yours truly.”

You know, I think I have been shy most of my life. As a young child, it was not easy for me to interact with older folks. In fact, it was not really easy to interact with strangers, even those of my own age. Perhaps, it had something to do with the fact, that I was farm boy in rural country- side and opportunities to relate with “newcomers” were few.

In fact, experiences with a broad range of social activities were few, other than with family and neighboring youngsters. And thus, in my small world, interactions with neighboring folks was a comfortable setting during the days of my early youth. And so, life moved on.

It was January, and I completed eighth grade one-half year early. This rather timid farm boy went from a small rural one-room school house to the large Central High School nearly twenty miles from my home. I entered ninth grade in the middle of the school year. Most of the other students were “Village youngsters,” who had “always been there” as a group. Student social groups had already been well established.

When I entered in January, the students were half way through their ninth grade studies. I started the ninth grade with the hope of catching up to the others. Right there, as I saw it, made me different from the others.

You know, I saw myself as a farm kid who just did not quite belong. More or less like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I was a quiet student, just trying not to make any waves or maybe hoping not to be noticed. Someone has said, “It’s easy to mistake shyness for coldness, and silence for indifference.” How true that can be. The days turned into weeks, and being shy was no advantage. I so wanted to be accepted by the others.

By and by, I perceived that most of the other students were also searching for continuing acceptance by their peers. In fact, nearly all, myself included, were searching for some identity. In that regard, I discovered, I really was not alone. In fact, there seemed to be, in my thinking at least, a common bond which united us: we were and are more alike than what we were different.

Through these early experiences, and later on in adult life, I found that fundamentally, all of us are social creatures. Our group community may be small, but “belonging” seems to be what matters. You know, when in the company of others, our thoughts seem to construct a mental map. We construct in our thoughts, what we think other people may be thinking of us. And, by so doing, we focus … in our minds … the direct spotlight on ourselves.

I believe the fundamental cause of shyness rests on where we place our focus. If our focus is on the reactions we think we produce in others about ourselves, it can become overpowering. In fact, we risk over-analyzing every thought, word, and deed of our own doing, and thereby, we almost disable ourselves by painful self-awareness. With that being the focus, shyness takes over and can become a stifling impediment.

True, I have been a shy person most all of my life. However, I have found, when one has a real concern for others, and we place our prime focus on others and their needs, we thus ignore our own concern about how others may view us. We really find genuine momentum for a warm and giving relationship for and with others. I call this concern for others “compassion.” Therefore, compassion (the caring about the needs of others as if they were our own) becomes the paramount emotion about what one deeply feels. It is with that focus, that the spotlight on self-awareness becomes sharply diminished, and shyness begins to fade into oblivion. Ah yes, Easter week and every week of the year: it is the needs of others, that really count. Ah yes, I have found THIS works every time: “Do unto others, what you would have others do unto you.”

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. All of the past columns can be viewed on Send comments to: