Shyness Power is a soon-to-be-released book. This article is the first of several from the book, which investigates the positive side of shyness. Shyness has been treated as a weakness throughout history when those who exhibit this characteristic have gained many positive powers that give them life advantages. For those who are not shy, you will discover what those who count themselves among the shy people have to offer and the benefit their shyness provides.
The story of the power of shyness begins with Henry Cavendish. He was a brilliant English philosopher and the most significant experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age. He was born in 1731, in Nice, France, to one of England’s wealthiest families. He was the first person to isolate hydrogen, combine it with oxygen to produce water, and of all things, calculate the weight of our planet. A biographer described him as “shy to a degree bordering on a disease.”
Though extremely timid, he greatly benefited from his family’s wealth, which enabled him to conduct his experiments in a state-of-the-art laboratory. But, because of his shyness, he rarely spoke to anyone. His reluctance even extended to his servants, who could communicate with him using only written notes. He was so bashful and anxiety-ridden that when he attended meetings with the country’s other leading scientists, Cavendish forbid attendees to look at him, let alone approach him directly. This made him unhappy.
In 1851, his biographer observed, “I have myself seen him stand a long time on the landing, evidently wanting the courage to open the door and face the people assembled, nor would he open the door until he heard someone coming up the stairs, and then he was forced to go in.”
His biographer described him, “as shy to a degree bordering on a disease.”
Due to his fear of social settings, Cavendish developed a social escape technique; mastering it so well he put Houdini to shame. Ironically, though he was internationally renown with laboratories named in his honor, his remarkable slip-aways from awkward social occasions, called the ‘the Cavendish,‘ is how his contemporaries named it.
Cavendish’s shyness went well beyond social gatherings. His biographer noted an incident at his home when an uninvited Austrian admirer knocked on his door unannounced. Upon greeting the great scientist, the visitor lavished him with praise, which Cavendish seems to take almost as physical punishment. Wanting no more of it, Cavendish fled his house, leaving the front door wide open to the shock of the visitor who left standing there. It was not until many hours later that Cavendish sheepishly returned.
After his death, his papers revealed some startling facts. Because of his shyness, he failed to publicize his other significant discoveries. These crucial discoveries included the law of energy conservation, Ohm’s Law, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures, Richter’s Law of Reciprocal Proportions, Charles’ Law of Gases, and electrical principles of conductivity. They bear the name of other scientists due to his reluctance to publish them. Shyness gave Cavendish the extraordinary power of concentration, deep thinking, and sharp focus as shyness provides many such fascinating powers to those enhanced by it.
A case in point is Albert Einstein, another shy genius. As he became more well known, people would call out to him as he walked down Princeton’s streets. He would often respond, “Ah, yes, many people tell me I look just like him,” and then rush by them, completely ignoring the greeters. As his popularity rose after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1921, he received a host of invitations for public speaking engagements. He refused them, replying that he just wished to be left alone. What are these mysterious powers that shyness gives these people, people that have changed our perception of the world?
Ironically, throughout history, most people thought of shyness as an undesired frailty of human nature. This “caution” emotion creates anxiety due to a fear of rejection and a hesitancy to inconvenience others. It results in feelings of timidity and embarrassment. Though it is a common emotion, with an estimated twenty to forty-eight percent of the population exhibiting shy personalities, it is still very misunderstood.
There is no lack of shy geniuses either. Such examples include Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Rosa Parks, Steven Spielberg, Steve Wozniak, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Melissa Mayer, Sir Isaac Newton, Google founder Larry Page. As these great individuals demonstrate, being shy was not a weakness as most think shyness is; it was the incentive for their success. Their accomplishments, despite shyness, were bold enough to change the world. They leveraged their shy power, allowing it to assist them in becoming extraordinarily successful. Some of the most creative people describe themselves as introverts and shy.
Shyness gives those that exhibit it great power. It not only puts shyness in a positive light but reveals its many unspoken powers. Though shyness can often be an absolute nuisance to those who profess it, shyness offers many advantages over its outgoing cousin to those who learn to harness these powers.
“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” — Einstein
Yet, the questions continue as to what exactly is shyness? Is it merely unwanted anxiety, or is it a personality disorder, as some people think? It may be both, but one thing is sure. It is a chronic occurrence for those exhibiting shyness, complete with the familiar unwanted signs of blushing cheeks, sweaty hands, and the more subtle chest flushing. Adding to the embarrassment, it can appear without warning at the most inopportune times, even to the most socially sophisticated.
Then there are always those little awkward moments such as the elevator ride, which the more outgoing never experience. It can be the uncomfortable, forced smile of the shy person when alone with a stranger. It can be the need to excuse yourself from a group to use the restroom, feeling all eyes are following you to the door.
If asked, most people think they know what shyness is. But chances are they would be wrong. Shyness is an elusive phenomenon often defying strict definition. Researchers currently define it as the presence of excessive anxiousness and self-consciousness, along with a negative self-evaluation in response to real or imagined social situations.
For many people, shyness is learned later in life. But for others, shyness begins at birth, with about ten to fifteen percent of newborns born as shy or inhibited. As to the current thinking on the causes of shyness, most researchers appear to agree with a 2002 study by Henderson and Zimbardo. Their research suggested that self-blame, self-consciousness, shame, and resentment are at the heart of chronic shyness.
If you are reading this article, you may be shy, or you may have a child, that is. You may be frustrated with yourself or afraid for your timid child. You may feel the need to be more outgoing. Perhaps you tried to overcome shyness but failed to make the improvements you were seeking. But, if you approach it from a different perspective and look at how your shyness benefits you, you will find that any negative feelings toward shyness will soon melt away, and you can wear your shyness with pride.
Is shyness a choice? Is shyness a power? How can you manage shyness? Are these questions that you ask yourself? The good news about being shy is that it provides many unique life advantages and powers. We will delve into these shyness issues in the next article.