THE QUIET ONES
There is a Victorian adage, “Children should be seen but not heard.” Our grandparents learned it from their parents, passed it along to our parents, and, to some extent, kept it alive while we were raised. Anyone who had this idea drummed into them during childhood, has a voice in their adult mind whispering things like, “don’t talk too much, don’t have an opinion on everything, don’t interrupt, don’t speak too loudly” — and many more. The sibilant echo of our parent’s teaching often quiets our voice. Females received a double whammy of ‘hush’ with the aphorism “girls must act like young ladies”. My mother’s body language and warning look hit me hard whenever I became too exuberant with excitement, or as an adult when I spoke passionately on a subject. Young ladies didn’t draw attention to themselves. This tested me daily, as my job description as a middle child was compete for attention constantly.
I have listened while people shared with each other how they don’t feel heard. These quiet ones have soft voices, are unable to insert themselves into a conversation, are talked over at gatherings and overlooked in meetings. “My adult children are so loud when we get together, I can’t get a word in,” one man said. I happen to know he is witty, funny and has a plethora of great stories – but he can’t beat the competition. “Finally, I raise my voice and then I just sound mad,” he concludes. How can the soft spoken compete when others are louder, faster, and more aggressive?
Some quiet ones told me they don’t want to be heard. “I’m too shy.” “I have nothing to say on the topic.” “I just like to listen, not show up on the radar.” That’s fair, as long as they don’t complain about not being heard later. The quiet ones who flummox me every time are those, who, when offered an opening for their opinion, idea, thought, say, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.” Frustrated, I’d say, well think about it now. Since I’ve concluded it is their way of saying they don’t want a piece of the action.
Quiet is often used as a weapon. The passive aggressive sharpen silence into a weapon, with which they stab you in the back when you least expect it. Women using silence as a punishment is a cliché.
A quiet mind is most often a blessing, bringing inner peace and a calm persona that attracts others. People of all religions and ethnicities work hard to attain this state.
Men and women choose quiet as they gain wisdom. They know the value of words — nuggets of gold, rubies beyond price, pearls of wisdom — and they dole them out sparingly. What they offer is of such value, people anticipate stop everything to listen. These quiet ones are highly respected.
I’m excited about ideas, love learning and have a dozen thoughts I want to share at any one time. I’m impulsive, as my mind leaps ahead, and so I can interject so often I throw off the balance in a group dynamic or monopolize airtime. My mind connects dots so quickly I don’t have patience with someone who is slower – even have the audacity to finish sentences for people to hurry them along. None of these are good practices. A racing mind prevents new synapses from forming, a racing mouth can hurt others. I must practice awareness during every interaction, so I don’t verbally step on others’ words.
How can we help the quiet ones be heard? Invite their thoughts without being pushy. Cue them if we know they have something they want to contribute. Curb our need to ‘one-up’ on a story. Take a deep breathe before speaking, leaving time for someone else to go first. Be open and alert making room for a quiet one’s thoughts.
There is always a reward for patience. You might gain knowledge, a great idea for your project, a new understanding of a person – or a quiet one’s smile because they’ve been heard.