Shyness: “Shrinking Violets” by Joe Moran

Whether discussing embarrassment, stammering, stage fright, or reticence, Moran considers the impact of shyness on creativity and its myriad contributions to fiction, art, and music. Beautifully written, appealingly candid, and thoroughly engaging…Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, about Joe Moran’s Shrinking Violets

Christopher Lane, PhD, who’s quoted above, has been a critic of pathologizing and medicalizing shyness. It’s no surprise, then, that he appreciates cultural historian Joe Moran supporting this same type of position in his 2017 “field guide” subtitled The Secret Life of Shyness.

Moran, who comes out as a so-called “shrinking violet” himself, also names other shy individuals—including famous ones such as Charles Schulz, Agatha Christie, Morrissey, and Oliver Sacks—and tells their stories. He notes that even those individuals who aren’t regularly shy often admit to having shyness in certain situations.

“If I had to describe being shy,” wrote Moran in his blog, “I’d say it was like coming late to a party when everyone else is about three glasses in. All human interaction, if it is to develop from small talk into meaningful conversation, draws on shared knowledge and tacit understandings. But if you’re shy, it feels like you just nipped out of the room when they handed out this information.”

Although introversion is commonly associated with shyness, they are not actually one and the same. On the other hand, Moran makes clear, there is often overlap. Unlike Susan Cain‘s approach to introversion in Quiet, though, Moran doesn’t strongly emphasize the benefits of shyness. Sure, it “…might have certain accidental compensations — being less susceptible to groupthink and more able to examine the habits and rituals of social life with a certain wry detachment, perhaps. Mostly it is just a pain and a burden.”

Megan Garber, The Atlantic, on additional pros and cons identified by Moran in Shrinking Violets:

The shy are frequently thoughtful and occasionally brilliant. They are often sensitive to the needs, and the gaze, of others. The problem is that they live in a world that, despite the commonality of shyness, has extremely little patience for it…Shyness, so emotionally adjacent to shame, is often also regarded as a cause for it. Within a culture that so deeply values self-confidence—and that takes for granted that social skills are external evidence of one’s internal self-regard—shyness is seen with suspicion.

From the conclusion of book reviewer Paul Laity, The Guardian:

Shyness isn’t a pathology, even in the age of the selfie and Facebook’s ‘radical transparency’, nor can it be dismissed as an excuse for the socially lazy. On the other hand, being quiet or tongue-tied shouldn’t be confused with great depth of thought, or a flair for ‘avoiding the platitudinous’. Having set out his array of enjoyable examples from stuttering King George VI to Charlie Brown, Moran [states that]…shyness is…simply ‘part of the ineluctable oddness of being human’.

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