We all love a mystery. Nothing draws our attention more quickly or holds it longer. Some of the best-loved classics in literature are detective stories. Perhaps you yearn to be a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, but feel there is no opportunity for adventure and discovery in the world around you. If you do, you are wrong.
In your very own homeroom there is a mystery that you have overlooked. A little curiosity and thoughtfulness on your part might enlarge your world and bring a new friendship into your life. That mystery is a person.
In every classroom there is usually at least one student who enters with downcast eyes, keeps to himself during the lesson, and then slips out the door when the bell rings, alone, and in silence.
Quite possibly your classmates mistake this quiet one’s unresponsiveness for hostility or lack of intelligence. Too many shy people are unfairly labeled “stuck up” by their unperceptive peers, who are themselves struggling with feelings of inadequacy.
However, you may be the one person who has the sensitivity and imagination to build a bridge across the gap.
In order to reach that mystery person, it is necessary to understand something about shyness.
If the truth were known, most people probably suffer from some feelings of shyness. Even people who seem very confident and outgoing have often had to overcome shyness. But, for a variety of reasons, some people have a more difficult time than others overcoming those feelings to extend themselves in social situations. They generally perceive everyone else as being self-assured and mistakenly assume that they are alone in their feelings of insecurity.
Some students may feel awkward around classmates because they never had the opportunity to get close to other children when they were younger. This could be due to family problems, poor health, or a lifestyle that uprooted them too often to provide a chance to get to know others.
Gillian’s father is a major in the U.S. Air Force, and she had lived in 11 states and 4 foreign countries in her 15 years. Glamorous? Maybe—but Gillian does not know the joy of attending high school and seminary with friends she has known since Primary. The private jokes they laugh at mean nothing to her, and she has no common memories to draw upon and share with them.
After being uprooted so often she has grown afraid to make new friends for fear of having to leave them behind. So in the past two years she has grown more and more withdrawn and has not kept up with the fads and interests of girls her age.
Other teens think Gillian is stuck up, but she is just too lonely to reach out to them.
Shyness may be due to real or imagined personal shortcomings. Greg, a handsome boy and a talented musician, is self-conscious about a slight limp, a minor defect that is unnoticed by most of his classmates. In his mind, it is a monumental abnormality, and he feels that every burst of laughter he hears is directed at him.
Debbie is unable to bring friends home after school because her mother has severe emotional problems, and Debbie never knows what she might find when she goes home. Therefore she is hesitant to accept invitations to visit her classmates’ homes, knowing she cannot reciprocate.
Whatever the cause, here are some specific things you can do to help people like Gillian, Greg, or Debbie cope with the very real pain of being shy:
Treat them as one of the group. You don’t have to walk on eggs for fear of upsetting them. Shy people are not as overly sensitive to good-natured teasing as you might think; most can tell the difference between affectionate teasing and cruel taunting. To give special coddling to the quiet ones in your midst is to set them apart from the group.
Don’t call attention to their shyness. In an effort to help Diane overcome her timidity, four of the girls in her gym class cornered her in the locker room and subjected her to a sermon, telling her she had to learn to speak up. They meant well, but a humiliated Diane only became more withdrawn and harder to reach.
For some reason shyness is often a great source of embarrassment, and even guilt, to those who endure it. Do not lecture them on overcoming the problem; if they could correct it on command, they would have done so long ago.
Discover their interests and talents, and make them known to others. If you can persuade them to join the journalism club or the drama society, you will help others discover what an asset they can be to the group. Also, it’s hard for them to remain self-conscious when they are absorbed in a project they like and do well.
Don’t be discouraged if they fail to respond to your first overtures of friendliness. They have probably been the butt of many practical jokes, for there are people who enjoy bullying the timid. They might be distrustful of your initial attempts to get to know them, but when they see that you are sincere they will gradually open up and contribute to the growing friendship.
Why should you bother to take the time with unresponsive classmates? One answer can be found in Jacob 2:17: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.”
And your new friend might have a great deal of “substance” to share with you, too. Shy people turn inward to express themselves and are often quite talented, as that expression may take the form of painting, writing, or music.
Shy people are excellent observers of a world they are too insecure to take an active part in, and may have deeper insights than your more outgoing companions. And relationships with them often prove to be lifelong and especially warm, because their friendships are hard-won and not superficially made.
If you are an adventurous person who enjoys solving mysteries and puzzles, that shy teenager in your classroom should have a natural appeal to you.
Like the iceberg, only 10 percent is on view to the casual observer—and you might be just the person to discover the more intriguing 90 percent hidden under the surface!