Hush: The Sound of Silence


For a moment, just listen.

What do you hear? I hear a television, a washing machine, the buzz of the furnace, my husband, the train wailing on the track by our apartment. I rarely experience anything resembling silence. When I go to work, there’s music, coworkers, anywhere from twenty to a hundred people, the sound of the air conditioning, the sounds from the kitchen, the dishwasher, the clank of pans and the clink of silverware. Even if you work in an office, you probably hear music, typing, voices, phones ringing.

I can’t recall the last time I heard silence.

I find that when I come home from work, I need silence. I need to be alone.

There’s a topic that I sense is about to become hot news: introversion.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed being alone. For years at school I was painfully shy, but even when I was within my comfort zone with family or friends, I needed to be alone. I spent hours and hours in my room. I had my nose perpetually wedged into a book. I had maybe one or two close friends. Even if I enjoyed spending time with people, I would wander off to recharge my inner batteries.

I remember growing up how people would tell me to be more outgoing. I had enough people tell me to be more confident that I think I started believing that I lacked confidence. Ask most of my family about Emmie in primary school, and they’d say I had some flair. Something happened along the way that plummeted me into myself to the point where I almost stopped speaking altogether for years. I got past that, but even though the intense agony of social anxiety has faded from my life, there comes a point in most of my days where I need to be alone and silent.

I feel that way now. The noises that I hear make me flinch away from them. This happens sometimes after a long day at work — the intensity of being surrounded by people who all want something from me creates an atmosphere that is overstimulating, and when I arrive home, all I want is silence.

This morning I woke up early to go grocery shopping. Whilst standing in the line to pay, I saw this:

Image property of Time Magazine

I seldom buy magazines, but I reached out and plucked that one off the shelf. While at the Writer’s Digest Conference, I heard of a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. She has built momentum even before the release of her book, talking about how introverts get overlooked in this world. How in a country that rewards and values the outgoing, the busy, and the boisterous, those who fall on the quiet end of the spectrum are often by-passed.

Tonight at work, a coworker sent me down the “middle alley,” what we call the central row of tables in our dining room. Nonplussed, I followed his instruction and found myself facing a little guy named Evan who I’ve known since I began working there. The last few times I’ve seen him, he’s acted very quiet. He’ll look me in the eye with these huge blue eyes, tiny mouth set in a line. He just looks. I smile at him and say hi and talk to him, tell him how big he’s gotten. He knows my face; I’ve seen him at least once or twice a month since he was born. Tonight his parents apologized for how shy he was acting.

Why do parents feel the need to do that? What’s wrong with being quiet? Little Evan knows me. I didn’t feel rejected by his silence. He acknowledged me by looking right at me. He didn’t take his eyes of me for about five minutes. He’s barely a year old. That he didn’t offer me a toy or smile or coo at me — that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. He’s precious and sweet, and I’m glad I get to see him around.

I remember as a child being marked off in class for not participating. I got top grades in everything, but when it came to group work, I got marked off — either that or everyone else goofed off while I did all the work. This is a normal experience among introverts; the outgoing, extroverted children participate (sometimes inappropriately), and often they are rewarded and applauded both by their peers and by their teachers and coaches.

This world values extroversion, but introversion has its merits as well. Multitudes of writers, scientists, artists, philosophers, physicists, leaders, and professionals have made a difference — and are introverts. There’s something to be said for quiet — for caution and contemplation.

In all honesty, hearing about Susan Cain’s book (and seeing the cover story of TIME) gave me an odd sense of relief. There have been times where I felt downright shamed by being an introvert.

As my day trickles to a close and many of the sounds have dimmed to a hushed murmur, I feel validated. The quiet calms me. My husband’s presence is a warm comfort. Away from the din of the restaurant for another eight hours, I can breathe and unwind and simply be. Like a third of our population, it is the silence and the stillness of being alone that rejuvenates me.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Have you felt restrained by your temperament before? How? How do you recharge your batteries? 

Does silence frighten you? 

I challenge you to spend ten minutes in silence, alone with your thoughts, regardless of your personality type. Let me know how it goes. 

Calanais, Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Copyright 2010 Emmie Mears


***In case anyone’s wondering where I fall on the Myer’s-Briggs spectrum, I am an INFJ. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeler, Judger.***

Relevant Links:

The Upside of Being an Introvert, TIME Cover Story by Bryan Walsh

Don’t Call Introverted Children Shy, TIME Essay by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Amazon)

Susan Cain’s Manifesto


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on February 4, 2012, in Salacious Saturday, Writer's Digest Conference 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Its about time the world started recognizing the quiet ones among us instead of stepping on, over and around us. I suppose I’m not totally an introvert, but I was just as happy with a book when I was a child as I was playing with others. I loved nothing better than falling asleep in my grandparents’ extra bedroom, listening to nothing but the gurgling of the creek outside and the hoot of an occasional owl. I have always disliked groups, meetings and committees. Maybe its the writer in me. I think writers are, by necessity, introverted – we need to observe the world we write about, which often involves standing apart from the crowd.

  2. I don’t mind being around people, in fact there are times when I prefer it. But it always drains me. People are great — but to re-energize and refresh, I need to be alone. Looking back, I think the world tried to change that part of me, too. And I regressed in parts of me because of it — self-confidence being one of those parts. It’s taken me years to stand up and accept that part of me as normal. I’m part of a group called introverts, and the world needs us, too! 🙂

  3. I can totally relate! One of my first posts was about being an introvert and the struggles I have trying to make it in the predominantly extroverted world. Silence is golden for me – especially at the end of a work day where I am in constant interaction with people. I also hate it when parents say those things about their child. I’m interested in reading that Time article and the book you mentioned. It’s about time us introverts get some recognition for all we contribute in our quiet ways!

  4. “For a moment, just listen.”

    oH i DO that a lot, it’s some different experience altogether!

    THe first pic is awesome.

    Good post

  5. Add me to the introvert and lover of quietness category. I can handle the background noise when I write, but I can’t have music playing or be able to hear the dialogue on the tv. I prefer the company of a few close friends and family to a big group. Big social gatherings are hard!

  6. There’s so much noise in the modern world that I think some people have forgotten, or have possibly never experienced, the benefits of sitting quietly. Personally, I love a bit of peace and quiet and I would go mad if I didn’t get time to myself every day.

  7. I’m an introvert. I was always labeled as quiet in school. If I go to a really crowded place with a lot of people talking and a lot energy, I often have to escape — if nothing else, to the bathroom — to get away from it to recharge. Yet, I also often have white background noise going on in the quiet times. I have the TV on now, in the background, and that’s fine. But it’s not a lot of noise and doesn’t have a lot of energy.

  8. Definitely and introvert …. who over compensates so much that everyone who meets me assumes I am an extrovert. Realy I just put on a ‘disguise’ and act! This is why I lend up doing activities that have a costume (belly dance, border morris, drama) or roles in organisations, secretay of one, president of another, i can then just act out the roles. But over compensating has its benefits, I put on my teacher persona and I have no problem speaking to an audience, whether a class, in a drama, a poetry reading or (one day I hope) a book reading! Thank you Emmie for an interesting and thought provoking post – well thought out!

  9. I’ve always been an introvert in an extrovert-oriented world. Nothing gives me more joy than a good book, the company of my dogs, or spending quiet time in nature. In hindsight, I realize this is why I never quite fit in. It’s taken many years to be at peace with who I am and stop trying to conform to the world’s expectations. Thanks for a thoughtful post for those of us who just have one word to say: Shhhhhhhhhhhhh!

  10. Hi Emmie, I really enjoyed this post. I’m an introvert, always have been since my school days and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. I remember how uncomfortable it was sitting in group classes at school and being expected to participate with relish and hating every second of it. I’ve never minded my own company and it doesn’t bother me in the least to spend time alone but then again I love socialising with my family and friends so I guess I have the best of both worlds. At school I was labelled ‘quiet’ which I absolutely loathed but now that I’m older and ahem, a little wiser I don’t care too much how others view me. I see myself as lucky that I can spend hours alone submerged in a story I’m writing.

  11. That’s why Twitter and fb is. Great we get to chat from the comfort of our home.

  12. Honestly, I don’t know what I am anymore. Many would tell you I’m introverted while others tell you I’m “clearly” extroverted. I love being alone in silence because my mind can take a break. Also, I can do all the things I’m usually ashamed of: order pizza and watch King of the Hill reruns until I pass out. However, there are moments where I want to go out and party with new people and get to know them! If I don’t have either, I get crabby. And people definitely don’t like me when I’m crabby.

  13. Ah, HOME! Among all the quiet ones. Love it. I can be in the fray for just so long and then have to escape to the silence. Even at family gatherings, I reach a point of overload and have to separate myself for a while to recharge. I’ve always thought of it more as a sensitivity issue than an introvert issue (although I’m more introvert). I get drained of energy in a crowd.

  14. Thanks for speaking up about introversion. I was always diminished for being quiet and liking to keep to myself. My internal world was vivid and intense and sometimes I just needed to shut out the outside world.

    I hated group work because I experienced the same situation. It frustrated me to have to carry other people and not get credit for it.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with valuing quiet and contemplation. Especially when everyone jockeys to be an expert. I enjoy keeping my own counsel. 🙂

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a vivid internal life. It doesn’t make us less interesting or even less social by definition. I know plenty of introverts (myself included) who get on very well with people face-to-face — we just need to be alone for a while later.

  15. That was a really great post. I am a shy introvert which isn’t the easiest thing. people tends to forget that we exist and that we aren’t weird just because we don’t feel great in big groups.

  16. I think the busier and more stimulating our world gets the more everyone will need quiet to escape and recharge.
    I figured out I am an introvert after marrying a super extrovert and having 3 children. I was never alone and it started to affect me greatly. I was so grateful when my kids went to school. I loved each member of my family dearly but I needed space like I need oxygen. All of the press that introversion is getting lately has been so helpful. I have a better understanding of my own nature and am able to share the knowledge with my loved ones.
    It’s so wonderful to celebrate the gifts of introversion too – able to concentrate, deep and meaningful relationships, good listeners, great idea generators, etc. Thank you for an insightful post.
    Btw, I am an INFJ as well. 🙂

  17. P.S. I’ve noticed many people don’t want to admit they are introverts. I think they equate it with “nerd.” I believe that is going to change. Loved Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts…

  18. Silence is powerful. You are so right. With a grown family of seven and now six grandchildren, silence is not something that featured predominantly in my life. However none of them live with us now so I am able to enjoy long periods of intense quiet at my leisure. (I don’t count the noise of my keyboard.) Ahhhhh….

  19. I am also in introvert. I would have snatched that magazine up as well. I have grabbed others in the past for the same reason. I welcome the silence. Don’t get enough of it around here. Beautiful, golden silence! My kids LOVE constant noise. My daughter is clearly an extrovert, a chatty one at that. My son is an Asperger. He will talk non-stop about the same thing forever. No silence here. *Sigh* LOL

    It’s interesting how many people will misinterpret a shy introvert for stuck up or something worse. People don’t understand how hard it is being on this side of it. I am totally drained after an hour with my kids though. 😀

    Great post Emmie!

  20. I’m an introvert too. I find it hard to be in a crowd because it’s sometimes exhausting to keep up with all the conversations going on. I prefer being able to relax in the quiet or be with a small group of friends. I hate competing for attention or forcing myself to be heard.

  21. Great post Emmie! 🙂 Thanks for mentioning the Time article. I managed to track it down in the South-Pacific/Asian edition today and found it an interesting read. The quiz at the end was revealing for the questions topics alone!

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