Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I'm Too Shy.

What I love about language is its ability to tell a story.  Each of us gets to use language to tell our own unique story.  We might use some of the same words, but despite what Webster says, our definitions vary.  There’s no way they couldn’t.  When we speak, hear, or read certain words, our brain conjures up an image almost immediately.  Most likely, this association is based on a past experience, our perspective molded and shaped by the life we’ve lived.

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally confronted my own story.  The words that make up my story are “sensitive” and “shy” often with the adverb “overly” in front of each.  I am not sure when these words took on a negative connotation in my mind.  Perhaps it was when a teacher said to my parents at conferences, “She’s so shy.  I am worried there’s something wrong with her.”  Maybe it was the million times I felt my face flush in response to sarcasm or an off-the-cuff remark.  Or it could be watching in awe naturally extroverted individuals climb up the social ladder.  It is clear that somewhere along the way, along the path of my story, I got confused.

Interestingly enough, “sensitive” and “shy” are the same words that I have used to describe my 3 ½ year old son to his teachers and new friends.  When he hides behind my leg as we enter his classroom, I have found myself saying, “He’s feeling shy today.”  When he was at a birthday party and burst into tears in the bouncy castle, I explained to a friend, “He’s a super sensitive kid.”  His teachers don’t say this.  They say he’s kind, compassionate, a good friend.  Other kids’ parents say, “I hope my son turns out just like Calvin.  He’s such a great kid.” 

It really hit home when the other day Calvin wouldn’t say hello to a friend we ran into at the store.   When we left the store, I asked, “Buddy, why didn’t you say hi?”

“Because I’m too shy, Mommy,” he said.

Cue heart exploding into a million pieces.

What came next was of course me profusely trying to redefine “shy” so that his impressionable little brain didn’t think he was anything other than perfectly amazing.

“Sensitive” and “shy” are two of many adjectives that describe my son.  Wrapped up in them is so much goodness.  Calvin is sensitive to others’ feelings.  He pats the back of an injured pal, shares his toys beautifully, and hugs and kisses his brother incessantly.  He’s sensitive to situations.  “It’s OK Mommy.  No biggie,” he tells me when I spill pancake batter all over the countertop.  “You’re hair looks beautiful today, Mommy,” he says on the once-in-a-blue-moon days I manage to wash, dry, and straighten it.  "Daddy, you need to take turns with Mommy.  Tonight it's her turn to read me books."  In Calvin’s shyness is his ability to assess a situation before he jumps in – discernment, a skill our world could use more of.  He’s rarely loud and unruly and focuses well.  He takes it all in.

What I don’t want him taking in is the language of my story – the definitions twisted by my past associations.  That’s my problem to fix.  It’s my job to embrace my own adjectives and see all of their good.  That teacher who told my parents there was something wrong with me – she has her own story.  Those kids who called me “big eyes” on the bus and laughed as my face grew red – they have theirs.  And even those seemingly confident extroverts whose rise appears effortless – of course they have theirs. 

I encourage you, dear reader, to think about the words you use to tell your story and the story of wee ones who are learning to formulate their own.  What adjectives can you redefine?  In places society has defined as weak, where can you find strength?  Language is our gift to pass on.  Let’s work on telling a story that is positive and empowering.  One that will eventually become a past association that moves us toward a place within that feels like home. 


  1. I loved this. I read something in the last couple years (New York Times?? I can't remember where!) that talked about how we, as a culture, put way too much value on the skills of extroverts, and how there is a lot of value in the "shy" or introverted person's natural inclination to quietly assess a situation before diving in and that our culture has made an error in assuming shyness is something negative.

    1. Love that - "quietly assess a situation before diving in." I will have to search for that article. I'd love to read it. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. You sometimes see your shyness and sensitivity as a weakness, but those who love you in your life see it as a strength. I think we see it in you the way you see it in Calvin in a way.