In singing about shyness and loneliness, Morrissey and The Smiths built up a devoted following that has endured for the past three decades. Naturally, the singer had many things to say in support of shyness, but his best line comes from a song that criticizes it. In the opening lines of the song “Ask,” the singer croons, “Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.”
Granted, this does not really showcase Morrissey’s famous wit, but it does display an important bit of wisdom. Shyness is nice, in the sense that it implies deference, humility, and inoffensiveness. No one rails against shy people and their drag on social interaction; ideally, they take care to include the shy person and make them feel comfortable.
And yet, shyness also prevents a person from asserting himself—in more fundamental terms, it robs him of personal autonomy. Shy people must depend on the less shy people to lead. Their shyness inhibits their ability to know others and, in turn, know themselves. True, they may not offend anyone, and they may even have some charm, but their lack of communication will quickly tire and bore those who approach them.
The problem of shyness has only worsened with the proliferation of smartphones and social media. Whereas the bashful fans of The Smiths coped with their shyness either by getting over themselves or forming cliques with other timid people, people today can feasibly spend their whole lives in obscurity. The shy now retreat to their virtual communities with their virtual friends so that they may criticize the behavior of real people in the real world.
Some see this as a good thing. A few years ago, shy people even had a bestselling book that seemed to validate them. Even the most gregarious types bragged that they were introverts who were not particularly “energized” by large groups of people. It did not seem to occur to them that any social situation will tire out any person since thinking and listening require energy while skimming Facebook or Reddit does not.
Those who truly suffer from, to quote Morrissey again, “a shyness that is criminally vulgar,” will attest to the obvious drawbacks. An unwillingness to talk and form relationships with others does not lead to enlightenment or a restored sense of purpose; more often, it leads to isolation, kookiness, and boredom. On a communal level, shyness brings about the extremes of tribalism (where people desperately bind themselves to others like themselves and reject outsiders) or atomism (where people have no connection with others and live anonymously). These outcomes both do damage to a community and culture that depend on open discussion, cooperation, and charity.
Furthermore, shyness enables aggressive talkers to swoop in to tell others how to think. Media of all kinds take a greater role since they act as the friend and advisor to so many people who have no friends. In the desiccated dating world, dominant men and women learn to exploit the shy and vulnerable for physical or emotional gratification. In such social disarray, politicians propose more government in people’s lives. Young people, they can learn to “be socialized” at school, and adults can consume more stuff (a replacement for friends and family) provided or paid for by the government.
As with any other common problem, the solution starts with recognizing it as a problem and determining its causes. Usually, fear of confrontation will turn a person inward, but laziness and a lack of role models can also be factors. Many shy people may not know how to talk to others, and they may not think it worth the effort.
For those willing to socialize, they will see that is actually not that difficult. One does not have to have to be a master conversationalist to talk with others; he only has to listen and be patient. So many people fail miserably at “winning friends and influencing people” because they think they need to impress the other with their wit and personal appeal. They fail to realize that most good conversations, the ones that lead to friendship, start with good questions. This article offers more detailed advice about how to ask good questions and have a meaningful exchange.
Of course, good listening and successful relationships require patience. The culture has made the great majority of people self-centered and insecure, a good listener must bear the cross of enduring irritating ignorant prattle from others. Sometimes, the other person learns to calm down and ask questions of his own thus opening the way for friendship; other times, he continues struggling and the good charitable listener may either have to point out the problem, keep the relationship light and meaningless, and/or consider making other friends.
Besides making one weak and vulnerable, shyness can also make a person immature and ridiculous. As a young singer in ‘80s, Morrissey won many fans with his shtick; as a middle-aged man, he has become a caricature—which is probably why he now tries to sing about politics and culture in his newer albums. Men and women can learn from this and take control, or they can submit to the loudmouths of the world who may know nothing about anything, except how to take advantage of shy people.