“It’s always the quiet ones.”
That is what I’ve heard all my life, even before I knew what that meant. In school from teachers and peers, overhearing strangers, and talking with friends. There are jokes that perhaps “the quiet one” will misbehave, because they know the person never has and expect them never to do so.
And now I read it in articles about someone actually acting on something well beyond misbehavior. The phrase “It’s always the quiet ones” is not usually explicitly stated, but every times I see a the perpetrator of some crime described as quiet and withdrawn, I think it. Perhaps it is because we do not expect it from quiet ones that we are particularly shocked and then point out they were quiet. But then there is that pattern set and it’s always the quiet ones, it’s always us.
I say us not because I identify with the shooter involved in the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I say us because when there are descriptions of quiet I feel lumped in with it. There was a whole book released about those of us labeled as quiet and the society that often misunderstands. I grieved when I heard the news of tragedy on Friday, and then I grieved anew when I heard the shooter described because it keeps happening and these words keep being said.
The words trouble me. They can be so easily said, thrown out and dismissed. I can see what is meant by it. When you’re withdrawn and quiet, no one really knows what is going on inside your mind. And that can be scary. We cannot figure out motive or reason or what the person is experiencing. We can only conjecture to make sense of it all, to deal with the uncertainty. So we pull to have information shared, and hopefully there is the loving call to have the person shared as well, and not just clinical details. Because I think it is healthy to ask someone to show themselves. But when we draw out answers for convenience sake and not care about the person, only trying to know what we do not to assuage our own curiosity and our own fear of the unknown, are we not isolating people even more?
I do not wish to excuse actions and I cannot speak for people. Being spoken for is another isolating thing, to be severed from self-expression. I wish I could give a hug, find some words of encouragement.
Yet all it feels like is that I have are questions, frustrations and grief, that all I can do is express them.
I feel frustrated that saying someone was “quiet and withdrawn” can explain so much.
I feel frustrated that the label “quiet’ can also explain so little and limit so much.
Before I understood what shyness was I was labeled shy. I can see why: I was timid in certain situations. But it eventually felt like I was stuck with that label. And where could I turn? I had little other experience of how else to be. The fact that my quietness was also rooted in natural personality made it harder. How could I diverge from what I felt was? I was quiet and yet so much more. But how to show that?
I ultimately sought out healthy ways to be connected and distance myself from thoughts that, though not the darkest and scariest, were still easy to get lost in.
I am so sad that “it’s always the quiet ones.” That it is said and that when you turn on the news it is often true.
I am angry and scared that I don’t know what to do about it.
In what ways can we work together so that it’s not always the quiet ones, that it is not anyone at all? In what ways can we encourage reaching out and being reached on levels of the unique individual and as a society? And how can we not draw every reserved person into feeling that something terrible is expected of them even while it is not expected?
I fear that quiet will continue to carry such a stigma.
And yet I also fear that not being concerned about quiet may let other atrocities occur, may let withdrawn people act on what may be very dark thoughts or numbness or anything that drives them to act that we don’t understand because the person never explained, never expressed it verbally.
What can we do for a nation hurt and hurting? What can we do for individuals who are labeled and put aside? Can we know them more than that they are quiet? How can encourage quiet people and those who may be reserved and not so naturally inclined to openness let people in in healthy ways? We process emotions in our particular ways, see the world through our unique lenses. How can we encourage self-expresssion in a healthy way, but also in our unique, God given, individual ways that are appropriate and healthy?
We all seek connection and expression. I have appreciated when I have found ways to engage and when people genuinely engaged with me. I write and read. I spend time with family and friends. I’ve discovered I value one on one talks or small groups discussions, especially when they provide a safe space to think and then answer what is on my mind. I have also found prayer to be invaluable for when all others words will not do, or when they will and I need that other form of connection, something beyond this world that can understand silence and weight of a people looking and asking for questions.
My quietness is not a detriment. I feel that we all are confronted with times we do not know what to say or do not feel like saying anything.
It is not quietness that I want to change. I want to change the stigma. And I want to change the mind of those locked into thoughts and feelings they do not know how to express, or just choose not to, and see only violence.
My heart grieves for victims, the families of children, teachers, a principle, and the family members of the one labeled “quiet and withdrawn.”
I pray for all the other quiet ones who sit in classrooms who feel they do not fit in. I pray for those who feel withdrawn, for those who are in pain or have been overcome with numbness.
I pray for those who grieve and who are grieved, for those who are afraid, and for all of us who do not understand. I pray for this society, culture, and world, that we may not isolate or be isolated.
And I pray we each find some light to hold on to and that it gives us all the peace, comfort, and most importantly the courage to seek expressions of life and not death.