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We live in a society where extroverted personalities dominate. Our leaders are those who speak the most and the loudest, not necessarily those who think the most and the hardest. We prefer to fill the void with noise than sit and quietly ponder. Retail staff are told it’s good sales technique to chat to customers – to ask mundane questions about how your day is going, whether it’s still sunny outside, and what you’re up to tonight. But they don’t really care, and I don’t really want to talk about it. Just fuck off and let me shop in peace.
I am a Quiet Person. I like being a Quiet Person. It’s peaceful. I like to think a lot, in my head. I’d rather say nothing than express a half-developed idea. I practise what I’m going to say out loud in my head before I actually say it. Perhaps this is the result of having an English teacher for a mother who can’t help but correct your sentences or asks why you’ve chosen to use a particular word. Sometimes this means that the conversation has already moved on before I’ve said anything, and I end up saying nothing. I’m okay with that. Karl Marx was a Quiet Person. So was Isaac Newton. So is Mark Zuckerberg, Jay-Z and Ashley Olsen. It’s not a bad club to be in.
But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. Throughout my teenage years, Cosmo magazine was intent on teaching me to be more outgoing, among other things. To my great dismay, I’m yet to see an article entitled ‘Why Loud People Should Shut Up’. Instead, the dominant discourses are those which either tell Quiet People to be louder, or give us lists of reasons convincing us that it’s okay to be a Quiet Person – as if we need convincing. Don’t worry, we’ve spent plenty of time thinking about it.
For those familiar with the Myers–Briggs personality test, I’m an INTJ (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging). My primary focus is internal: I exist in a world of ideas and plans. As an INTJ, I value intelligence, knowledge and competence. I actually can’t think of anything worse than incompetence – something courier companies have come to learn the hard way. JUST DO YOUR JOB. An INTJ personality is useful for a writer. In fact, writing is the perfect form of expression for a Quiet Person, because it allows time to reflect and restructure ideas before having to communicate them. You also can’t be interrupted by a Loud Person who feels the need to talk and be the centre of attention all the time.
The worst thing about being a Quiet Person is having to interact with a Loud Person for the first time. Of course, it gets better the more you get to know someone and they gradually come to realise you’re not a mute and do have things to say and are funny on occasion. Loud People tell me I’m “so quiet!”, and that I don’t talk much. Loud People like to state the obvious, for the sake of stating something, because there must be noise all the time. They tell me I’m shy. Loud People are often wrong, because they assert their opinions as facts. Quiet People don’t like to tell them so because it’s too confrontational. There’s actually quite a difference between shy and quiet. Shy is uncomfortable in social situations. Quiet is just, well, quiet. Despite the constant chastisement, Loud People seem to enjoy the company of Quiet People. Quiet People are good at listening, they’re observant, they’re approachable, they exude calm. They listen to a Loud Person’s problems without interrupting for a very long time and then offer a sentence of good advice at the end.
A common misconception about Quiet People is that we can never be Loud People. We can. But only when we think it’s necessary, and when we’re sure of what we want to say. Questions like “What’s your favourite food?” or “What one law would you change, if you could?” cause us heart palpitations because they require an immediate answer to a question that would ordinarily require much deliberation. Instead, we tend to have back-up answers to yell in response to quickfire questions. Pizza has been my ‘favourite’ food for the past 15 years because, well, I’ve eaten a lot of food in my life and how could I possibly choose a favourite??
Quiet People don’t want or ‘need’ help. Pressuring us into karaoke won’t rescue us from a silent prison. And ‘encouraging’ us with a nudge to ‘say something’ only invites more awkwardness because we haven’t had time to think yet. And you might not like what we have to say. INTJs are pretty judgmental. If you can’t say anything nice…
Nearing the end of her BA/LLB, Penny is in the midst of an existential crisis. The one thing that is for sure is her Myers–Briggs personality type.