Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt involves confusion. Or rather, a time when you felt out of place. This one’s kind of hard for me because there’s too many moments from which to choose. I’m really self-conscious in social situations. I’m what you’d probably consider a textbook introvert. I could write novellas just on what that’s like. I’m utterly unflappable in dangerous situations or when traveling abroad. I try to be polite and congenial to anyone that strikes up conversation with me, even though it leaves me exhausted. And for whatever reason, people like talking to me. But in a closer, more personal setting with a large group of people? I’ll carefully, stealthily slip into a corner, whip out a book I’d smuggled past the watchful eyes of my peers, and try to avoid making contact with anyone. It’s not that I despise people outright, it’s just that I find such situations insanely uncomfortable and tiring. Nor is it about arrogance; I just have a soft voice (which strikes people as odd given my appearance), and most of what I talk about goes right over peoples’ heads. Let’s see you try to explain the latest news from CERN or the finer points of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and not be met with blank stares. My interests aren’t what most would consider ”normal”. Whatever that means. The ensuing silence is awkward and makes me wish I hadn’t bothered at all. I think and work way better when I don’t have to juggle it with reading facial expressions and cues. The fact that introversion is considered to be abnormal by current social expectations makes it even worse; I’m all-too aware of the confused stares and contemptuous mutterings of people who just don’t “get” introversion.
Double standards, anyone?
However, I’m not blind to the necessity of social interaction. No man is an island (more on that later, I promise); human beings are wired for interpersonal communication. It’s how innovation and culture develop. It’s totally possible to come up with findings on your own – just read up on the discoveries of Henry Cavendish – but the process is much easier when you can bounce ideas and thoughts off of other people’s perspectives. I think it ends up being more of a matter of pacing and exposure than anything else.
So how do people balance it?
I’m not sure. I’m still really uncomfortable in social situations, but I don’t completely shut people out. This is probably best exemplified in a party I recently attended. It was the birthday of a young boy of a family friend, aged maybe 8 or 9 at most. What I noticed – and this a trend common in pretty much any kids’ party I’ve ever seen – was that all the adults tended to congregate together. They’d sit around drinking, watching a game on the TV, etc. But no one was talking to the kid. You know, the entire reason for the party in the first place? He wandered near where I was reading, with the unmistakable grimace of boredom and loneliness plastered across his face. I felt bad for him, so I decided to put the book down and talk:
Me: Hey, dude. What’s going on?
Him: (sighs) There’s nothing to do.
Me: What do you mean? Where are your friends?
Him: (dejectedly) We just moved here, so I don’t have any.
Me: Yeah, that sucks. What would’ve you done if they were here?
Him: (sighs) I dunno.
Me: Aw, come on. What do you like to do?
Him: (glances at my copy of The Geeks’ Guide To World Domination) …I kinda like to read…
Me: Uh huh. What else do you like to do?
Him: (shyly looking down)...Well, I have this big box of LEGOs. But I don’t know what to build…
Me: Hey, cool! LEGOs are awesome! If you bring them out, we can build lots of stuff!
Him: (confused) …You want to play LEGOs with me?
Me: Sure, dude. Let’s see what we can make!
Him: (a huge grin on his face) Okay!
Over the course of three hours, the two of us dug through his box of LEGO bricks. He had plenty of ideas, and he excitedly showed off his creations to any adult who would give him a second glance. In the meantime, I focused on building a single, massive spaceship for him. By the time it was time for me to leave, I had crafted something so huge he had to carry it with both arms. He proudly showed it off to his parents, who were shocked what the nearly-silent bookworm they had ignored the entire party had done for their child. I may have disliked being in that situation, but the grin on that kid’s face made my awkward efforts worth it.