By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Despite what you might have heard, “quiet” is not weird. It’s not abnormal. It’s not suspicious. It’s not a threat. It is a personality trait common to at least half the population.
But you might not realize that after watching news coverage about the recent string of horrific mass shootings. When reporters pass along descriptions of the shooter by acquaintances, they almost always say he was “quiet.” It’s the go-to word for the type of monster we’ve come to associate with human carnage.
What I wish they’d remember to add to the reporting is this: People often say “quiet” when what they really mean is completely withdrawn. Someone who has cut themselves off from all human relationships. Someone who festered with hate and rage until he exploded in the most savage yet cowardly way possible – against kids at school. Against people in a doctor’s office. Against families at a parade.
But “quiet” isn’t the culprit here. Quiet is not a mental illness.
But I’ll admit it makes people nervous. As a person who has been described as quiet her whole life, I can tell you from experience that people don’t like it. They want to know what you’re thinking, and that’s harder to do with quiet people. It’s also why quiet people often get wrongly pegged as rude, aloof, or snobby. In the absence of chatter or small talk, people often assume the worst.
What they don’t realize is that sometimes quiet is a result of paralyzing shyness. Sometimes it means a person is trying to think through the right thing to say or how to say it. And sometimes all it means is that a person has the refreshing habit of listening more than they talk.
And here’s a bit of irony. Some of the quietest people you know have the noisiest heads. Just because they’re quiet on the outside doesn’t mean there aren’t a million thoughts and internal conversations happening on the inside. Quiet people tend to analyze and question everything – especially ourselves. Many quiet people are also highly sensitive, not only to their own pain but to the pain of others.
Quiet is never just one thing or one kind of person. Some people are full of rage and quietly seethe about it. Some people are full of rage and can’t shut up about it. (Need proof? Check out YouTube or Facebook.)
Speaking of social media, the “noise” level is the main reason I find myself avoiding it more and more often. For many of us, Facebook, Instagram and the rest feel like a loud party – the kind in which you have to yell to talk to a friend, and even then, they can barely hear you. It’s just too loud. Too many people talking at once. Individual voices get lost in the crowd.
Some people at the social media party are celebrating. New car! New job! New baby! Vacation pictures! New puppy!
Some people are showing you their craziest videos while they tell you all about it.
And some people are drunk and arguing about politics, religion, or even what constitutes a basic fact and what doesn’t. These are the partygoers who love to yell in all-caps from the relative safety of their smartphones.
One of the more exhausting aspects of social media is that the party doesn’t end. People don’t go home. It scrolls on and on forever. The human brain is not wired for this kind of prolonged exposure to this many people.
And in some of the darkest corners of social media, people poor gasoline on the kind of hate that becomes malignant and metastasizes throughout the human soul. The kind of hate that blames others and seeks to destroy. It’s ugly and tragic.
And none of us should be quiet about what is at its core.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.