This post is less edited, less meticulously thought over than others I’ve written. I often try to balance honesty with sensitivity to situations, but this seems too important to put off until the perfect words come to mind.
When I was a child, as many children do, I would hide behind adult legs in the grocery store in order to avoid saying hello to Mrs. So-and-So or Mr. What’shisface. I’d blush, hide my face away, and eventually be allowed to not say hello, to not come from behind the legs, to shake hands and speak. And because I never had to talk to Mrs. So-and-So, I never did.
I have never been an extrovert to the extent that I welcome the opportunity to give speeches or facilitate meetings. It’s something I wrestle with, and I’m committed to working on this discomfort this year, a continuation of last year’s frustrations and anxiety with leading the Connection Gatherings, which I hope are on your calendar for January by now! True- I’ve been known to sing karaoke or make my friends laugh with a ridiculous joke or story.
But, it may come to a surprise to some, that I prefer, really, truly, to not be front and center considering I spend a fair amount of my day talking to people I don’t know, calling, emailing, meeting people I’ve never met before over coffee. The reality is, whether I prefer to sit at home and read, walk alone and take photographs, or on the rare occasion, stand on stage and belt 4Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” I still have to live in a world of full of people.
Our Public Ally this year, Andrew, remarked that he’s an introvert, too. He spent his New Year’s Eve at home watching movies instead of going out. I’m sure this is true of other introverts. Choosing to stay in and snuggle up. But I know that Andrew had the choice to go out if he wanted to. He could have accepted the invitation and gone to a popular bar to a party a co-worker was hosting in Over-The-Rhine. He could have called up any of his 1,363 Facebook friends (I checked) of which, I’m sure he has the numbers or emails of at least 25 of them, and made plans, if he wanted to.
Contrast this with “Brittany.” Brittany is a member of Starfire, and the reason why this post is so important. Brittany, (whose name has been changed) is quiet. Like Andrew, she’s an introvert, too. She enjoys spending her time reading, taking pictures, doing art. All things that give energy to an introverted person. All in all, she’s a pretty quiet lady.
Unlike Andrew, Brittany has only 37 Facebook friends (I checked). Of those 37 friends, 21 are paid employees of Starfire, or former paid employees of Starfire that are no longer connected to Brittany. 13 of those people are other people with disabilities. All of these 13 people are people she spends time with at Starfire between the hours of 9-3, as part of the Starfire U program. Only 3 of her Facebook friends are unpaid citizens. Of those 3, only one could be considered a “friend” or someone who has spent time with Brittany in the past doing things they both enjoy. The other two are acquaintances she met in passing at an event.
We talk about 51 People so much around here that it almost becomes something that lessens its impact over time. “51 People” almost becomes like a scene in an iconic horror movie. You know exactly the part when Anthony Perkins, playing Norman Bates, is going to pull back the curtain on Janet Leigh’s character. The first time, it’s horrific to see. Over time, it’s not as scary since already know what’s going to happen. Sure, it makes you uncomfortable, but you already knew it.
When I think of 51 People, as just a diagram, or just research Jack did in the 90s, it’s not as impactful. When I attach names that I know and faces that I care about, it’s still horrific, just as scary as the first time that curtain was pulled back. It never stops being shocking to think of Brittany’s life looking so isolating, lonely, and vastly different than Andrew’s, or mine, or yours.
True loneliness and isolation are vastly different than introversion, introspection, and solitude. Part of my vows to Jordan when we got married were to respect his need for “space and silence on difficult days.” Space and silence, of course, are healthy to a relationship, to ones equilibrium, necessary for sanity in a very loud world and often loud mind. Sometimes, I’ve kept that vow, and sometimes, (recently if I’m being honest) I’ve not learned to stop talking, pressing, asking questions when I should be just be quiet.
My promise of space and silence didn’t mean isolation, though. It meant, a moment of time to stop, no words when one doesn’t feel like talking, the ability to sit together and just not. It didn’t mean being remote. It meant coming back a few minutes, hours later, or even the next day and resuming.
This is very different than Brittany’s life. I have to wonder:
What happens when space is distance from others, being physically separate, and when silence is the marker of a life alone?
Dorothy Day wrote, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” As a child, at home, I would perform skits, dance in front of our VHS video camera, sing songs, write stories, make other people read them, play teacher with my sister Jenny and my cousin Courtney. I loved attention, praise, and accolades. I loved a crowd. I was in the choir at Church in grade school not because I wanted to do solos, but because my voice was one of many harmonized and I wanted to be a part of the song, part of the community. Even as an introvert, I didn’t want to be left out.
Being shy and quiet as child didn’t equate to isolation for me. I felt comfortable with being a performer at home, because it was met with love from my community, my family. It didn’t stop me from playing sports and being a part of a team. I like singing karaoke because my friends already know how bad I am, and it’s entertaining to them, my community. I can present about our work if asked, because I’m not standing up there alone. I know that when we talked to TSI people in Toronto, that my community, my co-workers and co-thinkers were there with me, too. No one has ever said that I shouldn’t be invited or included and used “introvert” as a reason I shouldn’t be around people.
We’ve talked about limited beliefs on here before, I think. Tim’s written, “How we speak about people reflects on what we believe about them. And what we believe about them reflects on how we treat them.” If we think Brittany is shy and quiet and would prefer to be alone, then we believe it’s better to leave Brittany alone because she’s shy and quiet. If we leave her alone, we never invite her out, or introduce her to others, or attend things she would enjoy. When we don’t make invitations, introductions, attend things she would enjoy, she never meets people. And because she never meets people it proves what we thought all along: she wants to be alone. She should be alone.
Being shy and quiet are great things. There is wisdom in a voice that speaks up rarely, but powerfully. One of my favorite moments of the past 5 years here, was when Lauren, an also shy and quiet woman who never would speak up for herself, stood up at our commencement event in June 2012 and gave a speech thanking her mom and dad and friends.
I lean more towards the introversion in big social situations. I much prefer one on one conversations than big speeches and sweeping presentations but for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean being alone or not invited or not included, or not having friends. Andrew or I can choose to stay at home and watch a movie. For Brittany, she’s at risk of not being known, and the sitting at home, alone, is not a choice—it is her reality, and one of which where there’s an opportunity to change.