I Am Not Too Quiet. The World Is Too Loud.

An introvert listens to the quiet

In an extroverted world that never stops making noise, being quiet is a gift, not a drawback. 

If you’re an introvert, you may have been labeled as the “quiet one,” the “shy one,” or the one who “doesn’t talk.” You may wear these labels with ambivalence. After all, there are worse things to be called.

In reality, we introverts do talk when there is something meaningful on our mind that we want to talk about. And, the opposite is also true — many of us introverts have quiet personalities. But this quietness isn’t a bad thing. In a world that never stops making noise, I believe that being quiet is a gift, not a drawback. Solitude, too, is a gift and an opportunity to be seized. 

To some people, however, solitude is a daunting concept. They have the same attitude toward quiet, as in the absence of sound. While some may find it uncomfortable — it leaves too much space and one thing we as a culture are experts at is filling up space — many of us introverts love quiet.

So, in my opinion, I’m not too quiet: the world is just too loud.

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Living Out Loud Has Become the Way of the World

It seems like silence is intimidating and unnatural in a world where we are taught to express ourselves in a continuous loop. It’s as though living life out loud — for all to see and hear every little thing we do — has become the way of the world. Every thought, opinion, action, dream, and desire has an outlet. For example, on social media, you can let your every intention be known by anyone and everyone, every day and at any time. 

People announce and record everything from what they’re eating to how they’re working out. Families post videos on YouTube of themselves brushing their teeth and shopping for plastic bowls at IKEA. And even children are getting in on it, recording and talking about the toys they play with. 

This is a live-out-loud world. Nothing is done quietly. 

There are absolutely endless ways to fill your life with “noise,” both visually and audibly. Stream till your heart’s content. You can listen to any song by anyone, anytime you’d like. There is music playing in every store, in the car, and in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. It is almost as if every possible silence has been purposely filled in somehow. 

People wonder why stress levels are ridiculously high? I think it might have something to do with having to compete with all the noise pollution around us in order to hear our own thoughts. I know it gets to me. Research, too, has found that environmental noise leads to higher stress levels and health issues.

As an introvert, I am quiet and I need quiet. Having so much stimuli around me all the time is the ultimate distraction from my mind (which is an introvert’s favorite place to be). I bet most of the world didn’t even realize how distracted it was until it was forced to get quiet with the stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beforehand, if the noise of life had been so loud that it allowed people to tune out completely, I hope the silence woke them up.

Silence Is Beautiful

This past year of pandemic life, it seemed that the Earth took a breath. I remember going for walks and feeling a beautiful stillness. The sounds that I could hear were so organic to natural life; pre-pandemic, they’d be drowned out by the mechanical vigor of human existence. Now, there were bird calls I’d never heard before. Birds I’d never seen before. The air even smelled cleaner. 

Last spring, for a short time, you could smell the blooms on the trees instead of exhaust. To some people, the empty streets in Chicago and the even suburbs where I live were eerie. Maybe it was because their ears were so used to being bombarded by noise that silence isn’t always completely void of sound: birds sing, wind blows, leaves whisper, your heart beats. There is so much to hear if you listen, especially intentionally. Of all the tragedy, loss, and pain the pandemic’s brought upon us, silence and stillness have been a silver lining.

Not everyone would agree with my take on the situation and that’s because not everyone understands why introverts long for quiet respite. The truth is, introverts will never be strangers to solitude. As much as some people avoid solitude and awkward stretches of silence, introverts avoid the opposite. We hide from the unnecessary clamor of life. Conversation should be optional, not required. Ultimately, it gives more meaning to what is being said. 

For so long, I’ve personally dealt with the judgment of others that something must be “wrong” with me because I am “so quiet.” I do not insert myself into conversations and I usually don’t open myself up like a family-sized bag of chips so everyone can get a handful (or earful) of what I’m thinking. Instead, I relish the silence (and hope others have learned to do so this past year, as well). 

The Only Set of Standards to Live up to Are Your Own — You Make the Rules

Granted, my life has been a lot louder since having kids, but I still make it a point to seek silence. Over the years, I’ve had many well-meaning people encourage me to put myself out there more. Make more friends, get active at the kids’ school, call people up more often, be more social, be friendlier, smile more.

Once upon a time, I gave that all a second thought. When I was younger, I wasted time comparing myself to this projected image of the person I was supposed to be; Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, calls it the “extrovert ideal.” I felt like I wasn’t a whole person until I had this ability to let more people in and let more words out. I was “supposed to” make small talk and go to every social event I was invited to.

But, over time, I learned there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to constantly socialize. I don’t have to make small talk or open up about anything if I do not care to. I am old enough to know it’s not worth torturing myself to do things I’m uncomfortable doing. I am a whole person; yes, a quiet one, and I don’t have to be any louder just because the rest of the world thinks I should be. And, due to my quieter nature, I feel internally more whole and familiar with myself as a result. Remember, there is no set of standards to live up to except your own. You make the rules.

I think the world needs to learn how to turn the volume down: Turn the background music off and take all the extraneous noise and mute it for a while. 

I Pledge Allegiance to Myself — Without Apology or Hesitation

So, I’ve made a pledge to myself and suggest you try it, too: “I pledge allegiance to myself to be myself — without apology or hesitation.” 

I pledge to never again feel weird for turning off the radio and driving in silence. I will not do something or go somewhere and pretend I am having a good time. And I will never smile because someone tells me to. My face is my face; I do not have to defend it. 

Similarly, I will not answer the phone with a bubbly and warm greeting, because I am not bubbly and warm. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad time to call or that there’s anything wrong with me. I am also done feeling like I have to socialize on some sort of regular schedule in order to be considered normal. And when I do socialize, I will not fill the room with meaningless small talk for the sake of not feeling awkward. Not only do I tune out and lose my place in the conversation anyway, I’d be painting myself as something I’m not. I am not super social. I am not talkative. I am not interested in surface-level conversations.

The most important relationship we have is with ourselves. It shouldn’t involve constant external approval from other people. We introverts do not have to speak up so the rest of the world can hear us. Instead, the rest of the world needs to learn how to get quiet and listen. 

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Introverts Have a Quiet Advantage: Let’s Own It 

The fact is, being an introvert with the innate ability to live quietly is an advantage that really paid out last year and into this one. And it will continue to be a strength of mine for the rest of my life. 

While much of the world may still struggle with the inability to turn down the volume and live at a different pace, I challenge them to keep trying. On the other hand, moving forward, I think more people will now withhold judgment about how “quiet” someone like myself should (or should not) be. When someone makes a comment about how quiet I am, now I usually smile (because I want to) and I say, “Yes I am. Thanks for noticing. You should try it sometime.”

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