I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be timid, as opposed to being naturally shy or introverted. So that’s what’s been in my head, especially the similarities I sometimes see between timidity and humility and this weird pretend self-confidence that turns out to be based in a feigned apathy.
…I just used a lot of words that may or may not make sense by the time I finish rambling–we’ll see.
I wrote some doggeral once about what it looks like to be timid–a different thing, I thought, then being a concerned person or even an insecure person. Here’s what I’d written:
I keep myself busy
With all the art required for
Endless exercises in timidity.
A teacher asks a question
I rack my brains for the answer
And then don’t say it. Ever.
I consciously keep it inside my mouth.
I am a silent smartypants.
It’s cheating, what I do sometimes in an attempt to make something prosey poetic. Just chop up the thoughts and put ’em on separate lines and you’ve got poetry, right?
Ha. No. Silly Jo.
Anyway, here’s one picture, anyway, of timidity: it’s knowing the answer to a question and then keeping it consciously inside your mouth. It’s deliberately not saying something.
Timidity means being a “silent smartypants.”
Timidity is being so afraid of other peoples’ thoughts about you that you sometimes keep quiet on matters about which you do, in fact, care deeply. You deny that part of yourself, and, chances are, you miss knowing someone else who cares deeply and who was simply waiting for another voice to speak up.
Sometimes I try to pass off my timidity as humility. I convince myself that the reason I don’t say the answers in class is because I don’t want to show off-no one likes a show-off.
There it is.
No one likes.
No one likes a know-it-all. And I want to be liked. More specifically, I want to be liked by the people I perceive as being cool, maybe even popular. I want to be highly regarded, highly thought-of, and what people think of me is frustratingly high in my subconscious list of priorities. Without even thinking of it, I daily perform for whatever audience I happen to be concerned with at the moment. I tailor my performance based on what I imagine they’ll like the most.
How can I make them like me the most?
The safest course is usually apathy. This is unfortunately what my most common perception of high school is: a place where you’re popular if you can convince people you don’t care. You’re cool if you don’t talk about anything; if you just do what’s required in classes and, aside from that, don’t get too invested what’s going on around you.
I could be very wrong about that. I observed high school from the outside, and so I don’t know if I’m being overly influenced by Disney’s atrocious/in-some-crazy-and-illogical-way-appealing high school dramas.
In some ways it makes perfect sense. Things are just so strange and uncomfortable for most of those middle-school and high school years that, of course, the ones who don’t open their mouths and let loose all the crazy thoughts bouncing around their heads are as a matter of course going to come off as cool, calm, and collected.
I think that’s when I learned it–that keeping quiet is a safe bet, generally. After a while, people get used to you being quiet and attribute it all to your natural introvertedness. And while nothing is required of you, nothing is really expected, either. And it gets increasingly hard to break the silence, to say things louder.
If this is coming across as critical of those who are naturally anxious or introverted or maybe just plain shy, I apologize. I’m a pretty timid person, often, but my point is that anyone–even extroverts–can be timid.
If being timid is having something to say or do, and then not saying or doing that thing because of fear of what others will think, then anyone can be timid.
I’m realizing that maybe a lot of people I think of as never having these problems of fearing others and overconsidering reputation probably do face the same sorts of fears. Maybe the ones who seem most confident and put together–who never seem to feel any uncomfortable passion about anything–maybe they are the ones struggling most with fear and timidity.
I just don’t think apathy comes naturally to humans. We are wired to care, and to care deeply. Apathy is a cultivated sin.
And I do think it’s a sin, or at least it can be a marker of some other sin. I need to unpack that more, maybe, for it to make sense what I’m thinking of. It’s kind of a rabbit-trail, though.
My main point is that, when people care deeply enough about something, they are going to speak up.
It can be an important something or a sillier something. Otherwise intelligent people care an awful lot about sports, and a certain nerd (yours truly) cares very much about the writings of a portly old man named Gilbert Keith.
When I see that someone cares an awful lot about something–and it might be important or silly, I don’t care–I’m somehow reassured that said person and I can be friends. Real friends, maybe, on more than a surface level. Because not caring about anything seems unnatural. It seems lonely. If you haven’t been called a nerd at least once in your life, and looked at yourself and thought, hey, yeah, you know that’s pretty accurate about This Particular Interest, then just consider. You are practically alone in the human population.
Every one is a nerd about something. And rightly so.
Revel in your nerdiness, in your capacity to care for more than survival. Humans have been given so many options for their priorities: as beautiful as the instinct of, say, Monarch butterflies, might seem, they lack some inherent freedom in choosing what to make their lives stand for. It’s a freedom that you have.
I don’t seem to be getting back to talking about timidity verses humility. I’ll try once more but if I can’t do it, then I’ll try again another time.
First, a story. Today in choir was audition day, and I had already determined not to try out for a solo. I had all kinds of reasons: I was out of practice/hadn’t sung all semester; I didn’t really want a solo anyway; and I didn’t need to prove my self to this choir of practical strangers. I felt so confident in my own abilities: Oh no, I thought, it’s not cause I’m scared. It’s not that I’m self-conscious about my voice. It’s only that I prefer to sing with family and close friends. I don’t feel the need to make an exhibition of myself to somehow prove that I’m brave.
Choir starts: people audition, some sounding good, others…not so much. I start to get this self-satisfied feeling of hey-what-a-good-plan-it-was-not-to-audition-holy-cow-you-would-have-embarrassed-yourself-like-that-kid-over-there-just-now. Not a very holy feeling, if you know what I mean. Comparison, Envy start to hover around my shoulders, and Timidity keeps turning the pages for me.
So the next song starts, and it’s a solo I love and have loved for years. It’s one I would love to sing, except I know that I couldn’t sing it the way it needs to be sung. I get this picture in my head of what it might be like to audition for it.
Jo stands up confidently and smiles calmly at everyone. Jo sings through the solo winningly, bestowing a gracious, genuine, and down-to-earth air on all who listen. Jo finishes and sits down, perfectly content with just having tried the solo, perfectly content that someone else will sing just as well, or even better.
Here’s what actually happens: I stand up, and the director doesn’t see me. There start to be these whispers about how he doesn’t see me–everyone’s nervous for me. I start to care, a little, and I start to think of how silly an idea this was. I shake it off, trying to reclaim that apathetic confidence–remember, Jo, you don’t care how you sound to others, you just wanna enjoy singing this song you love. It doesn’t work. I start to care more, and when the director signals for me to begin, I open my mouth and nothing of what comes out sounds how I thought it’d sound. It’s laughably bad.
It sounds like someone who’s terribly nervous and insecure, who is trying to audition purely to convince herself she’s brave, and who has some skills that regrettably don’t actually include auditioning in front of a choir of eighty people.
It sounds like me.
And I’m fine with me, mostly. I’m fine with that extra shot of humility the experience gave me. I sure as heck wasn’t as judgmental of the person near me who auditioned after I did. Rather, I kept thinking, how are you all so brave?
Way to go, friends. Way to try, even if you weren’t sure of the result.
Complete tangent, sorry.
Let me go back, briefly, to something that got said earlier: that, when people care deeply enough about something, they are going to speak up.
What’s gotten me thinking about this whole thing is some episodes in the book of Matthew. There are these places where Jesus works a miracle for some people, then instructs them not to tell anyone that he did it. So yeah, one of those places is Matthew 9:27-31: Jesus heals these two blind men, and “sternly warn[s] them” not to tell anyone, and the next verse says that “when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.”
I sort of get why Jesus is, at this point, not having people proclaim his miracles,but what I’m curious about is to what extent was the disobedience of those two formerly-blind guys excusable? I mean, if you were blind, and then a man healed you, I’d imagine it’d be hard to stay quiet.
If I’m a Christian, and I believe that “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see,” how is it that I can stay quiet? How on earth am I in any way apathetic about the Gospel? If I believe the Bible is true, how can I think of Jesus Christ and say, “meh, whatever.”
Here’s where I think apathy indicates sin. It seems like there’s something I value more than I value God and His word. At least that’s what I’m indicating by my willingness to keep quiet. So I’ve been asking myself what I’m ashamed of, and how I can possibly reconcile that with Romans 1:16.
Maybe I’m afraid of coming off as a smarty-pants.
Maybe I’m afraid of annoying people.
Maybe I’m afraid of not being liked.
Maybe I’m just afraid.
There’s a myriad of reasons to be afraid of the world if you don’t know Christ. If you do know Christ, there’s exactly this many reasons:
After this long doozy of a ramble, I’d like to encourage you if you are a Christian that timidity is neither how we have to live nor is it how we ought to live. God replaced that spirit of timidity with one of “power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
If you aren’t a Christian, then I’d like to tell you what I’ve been learning about how Christ gives us freedom from fear and a glorious hope in which we can place our trust.
As always, thanks for reading:)