The most common questions and statements that I encountered when I was a kid were “Why are you so quiet?” or “Why haven’t you talked all day?” or “I think you’re just being overly sensitive”, especially in a society that doesn’t emphasize so much on emotional intelligence.
I was that kid who hid behind a curtain for too long and caused unnecessary panic, or the kid who walked to the street quietly without adult supervision, or that kid who managed to doze off while eating a piece of chicken. I hardly talked. I was just busy in my own world of thoughts. The older I get, the more in touch with my feelings have I become and it’s that one topic that people tend to avoid because it is uncomfortable to be sensitive and sometimes, embarrassing to just show raw emotions.
Growing up in a world that emphasizes public-speaking and teamwork, I wanted to fit in, sometimes, in expense of the essence of what God created me to be.
When placed in an unfamiliar social situation with an overwhelming crowd, I tend to resort to a less crowded corner and by the end of the day, I would be emotionally drained. Most of the time, I pretend to be comfortable, when in reality, my inner self felt like a run-down factory that is trying to operate without failure. So I put up with a straight face.
With practice and countless emotional break downs, it was possible to go through presentations and eventually, it became less difficult to manage my anxiety talking in front of a crowd. If that sounds familiar to you, then rest assured you are not an anti-social and not necessarily, socially anxious, you’re just dominantly an introvert.
So, where do we introverts fit, in a fast-paced world and increasingly competitive society?
Having read the first part of Quiet by Susan Cain, I felt like, finally… something that I can relate to. One of the statements made in the book is how today’s society emphasizes on teamwork a little too much and most of the times, ignore the power of working in solitude. One of the things that resonated with me the most was that, group brainstorming often kills creativity because 1) only one does the talking which technically concludes to one dominant idea 2) some do the work, some don’t 3) fear of looking stupid in front of everybody. Apart from that, I feel that the book is trying to comfort me in a way to say that I am no different than the vast majority who are not that ‘loud’.
Of course, I am not demeaning dominantly extroverted people out there because, just like yin and yang, we need each other to create a balanced society. The truth of the matter is; personality dynamics have long been appreciated before the subject psychology even existed.
This is true especially, when we look at the life of our prophet, Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions.
Prior to the times when Rasulullah (PBUH) received his first revelation through Angel Jibril, he often secluded himself in the Hira cave of Jabal an-Nour mountain. This was the place he reflected upon the Quraisy society at that time and basically, crimes against humanity, including racism and discrimination against the poor were widespread and common. He was in touch with his inner-self and of course, with the event of his heart being physically cleansed when he was just a child, he managed to escape from a life full of hatred. In fact, he received the first revelation at the same place, alone, where he contemplated the society of Makkah. He didn’t need to be loud in his cause initially, but he portrayed his messages through actions and acts of kindness. He was the most trustworthy, noble and empathetic person anyone had ever known in a hopeless world of conflict. This was someone who didn’t have any family but his uncle and lived a simple life as a sheep herder, against somebody loaded, selfish and powerful in Makkah. The event of his solitude in the cave became one of the highlighted moments recorded in Islamic history, and it remains one of the most profound times in his life.
Later in his life as a prophet, he gained the most loyal companions, and amongst the many was Umar Al-Khattab (R.A). He was more vocal and firm that he voiced his concerns instantly and that, even the devils were scared walking in the same path as his. If we read more on the life of Rasulullah (PBUH)’s companions, we would realise how colourful their personalities were and how after all, they completed each other by embracing each other’s strengths as well as weaknesses.
One of the most fascinating things that I’ve learnt from reading about their lives is how often they reflected upon themselves and their own deeds because in the end of the day, as we know, we will face our own trials, alone, in the hereafter. Their strength in the day was from their alone times with God during night prayers, when our emotion level is at its peak.
Indeed, if we realise the most profound means of being closer to God is when we are alone. He goes to the lowest level of heaven every third of the night to see who among His servants wake up to praise Him and pray, where our prayers are described like hitting a target without ever missing it.
In a world that is too “loud” and fast, we don’t spend time alone enough. If we ever feel lonely in those alone times, we don’t reflect enough. Even if we are alone, we prefer to be online. Self-reflection is done when one is away from any distractions.
How often do we hear about people who are surrounded by crowds of other people, somehow feel disconnected and ironically, feel lonely? Sometimes, the void that we feel inside is not because we are empty and hence, feel lonely but because we have been filling that void with something that doesn’t nourish our soul. In those alone moments were the times that I actually was able to acquire the strength and bravery to do something outside of my comfort zone. Nothing out of this world, but something that need a little bit of push and positive pep talk. Maybe for some of you, you will find invaluable lessons about your life struggles or at an extreme level of self-evaluation and brainstorming, a billion-dollar idea. Who knows?
Of course, this is not to say we completely shut off and forget about other people as that contradicts the true purpose of self-reflection and evaluation. It’s through these reflections, we know ourselves enough to be in service to other people with increased awareness that the world doesn’t revolve around us and everything is not just about us. The type of contemplation that Rasullullah (PBUH) did in the Hira cave should be led by example, and I don’t mean it in a literal sense. It wasn’t out of selfishness that he did it, but out of genuine care and his utmost sincerity to change the state of the ironically, selfish Quraisy society who spent most of their times, being social. The obvious way to do this as a Muslim is our daily prayers beautifully distributed throughout the day, when we can spend the time to unwind, recharge and then continue, to face whatever obstacles that may come our way. Thus, even in what seem to be the loneliest place on Earth to be a Muslim, a believer may sometimes feel scared, but hardly alone because he or she is never deprived of His company.
It’s really hard to get used to being alone especially if you come from a big family but you know, you don’t really have to reflect alone if you don’t want to. Do it with someone who you are comfortable with, rather than spending your time and energy in a trivial conversation.
So, the next time people tell you how quiet, or how sensitive you are, don’t be defensive but rather, be grateful as those are your strengths. Only speak when there is good and immerse yourself in your own thoughts and write down if need be.
The next time you feel lonely, turn off your social media and maybe it’s time to reconnect with your Lord.