Hell Is Other People

This is a list of some of the things that annoy me:

1. People who don’t say ‘thank you’ when you hold a door for them2. Pensioners who shop on Saturdays

3. Parents who appear to believe they have done the world a favour by breeding

4. Baby boomers who complain about the cost of things (but don’t mind that they ate all the tax)

5. Other people’s music

6. Shop assistants putting coins on top of notes

7. People who do chirpy knocking on doors*

8. Cluster parking in empty car parks (a similar phenomenon is also experienced in cinemas and restaurants)

9. People who complain about their jobs but don’t do anything to make them better

10. Oneupmanship (as my mum might say ‘if I’ve got an elephant you’ve got a bag to put it in’)

I could’ve added things such as ‘the exact level the sun is at during a particular time in autumn rendering it difficult to see when driving’ or ‘the fact that the Big Tasty isn’t a regular feature of the McDonalds menu’ or ‘hot feet’ but none of these things are as teeth grindingly annoying as the sins committed by human beings.

As a disgruntled colleague of my husband once said ‘people Mike, just…people‘.

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Since Spring this year I’ve been working as a Moderator for the Mail Online, weeding out great handfuls of offensive statements from the comments section of the website, a receptacle for the Western world’s anger towards Islam and immigrants.  Those people are angry. Really, really angry. I’m pretty sure I don’t fall in the same category of hatred as the xenophobic Mail readers. For one thing I don’t only hate foreigners, I spread my dislike evenly across the nations.

In fact I wouldn’t say I even hate the human race, I’m misanthropic to a point (I absolutely share a hell with Sartre) but it really boils down to a consistent disappointment in people and the realisation that so many human beings are unintentionally fake, more concerned with their outer appearance and being liked than with being honest and decent.

Just call me Holden.

Those of us with phobias of social situations have the opportunity to view other people in a unique way.  We aren’t asocial (in fact most of those with such a phobia only wish they could be those social butterflies who flutter merrily in to conversations with complete strangers), we just find engaging with people – even those we know well – extremely difficult.  As such a social phobic is the first to notice when people are kind and thoughtful or self-absorbed and rude.  We’re easy to talk over and ignore and the majority of people will do just that.  It’s rare that I come across somebody who will patiently spend time navigating awkward silences or who will spot the shy person and bring them in to a conversation.
It’s when you’re a quiet observer and you rarely speak out of turn that you notice how self-absorbed the vast majority of people are.  If you don’t shout you aren’t heard and every insult – a shop assistant who ignores you in order to continue a conversation with a friend or someone who doesn’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to children (if you don’t have kids you might be rather surprised by how rude grown ups can be to little ones) – is added to the elastic band ball of disappointment which grows bigger and bigger and is eventually put on a plinth on the outskirts of a small American town with a plaque declaring it the biggest ball of misanthropy in the state.
My husband finds it funny that even the smallest thing will annoy me for hours, growing and growing until I actually hate the whole world and for an hour or two wonder if it might really be possible to learn witchy curses, but the longer we’re together the more he notices it too (this might not be a good thing and could be considered reasonable grounds for divorce).  I think it’s almost a shame that more people aren’t able to see themselves and those around them as the painfully shy do, they might be more inclined to think before they act, to be a little bit nicer and think less about their own egos and more about others.
And if people were nicer the world would be better and I might even be less angry about cheerful door knocking techniques.*coming over to do a chirpy door knock after reading this post will not be considered an acceptable joke

Actually, I Don’t Want to Be An Extrovert

This morning a friend posted an article from today’s Guardian.  With the title ‘Why The World Needs Introverts’ it immediately caught my attention.

This is the first and only time I’ve seen those of us who are shy, who prefer not to be asked to speak up, portrayed positively.  Usually the shy are freaks; they’re the weirdoes and moody loners in movies and TV series, the ones first collared for a murder before the good guys realise that their only evidence against them was ‘we thought he looked a bit shifty’.

Rather pleasingly Susan Cain eloquently describes the difficulty and pain faced by those of us who have gone through life being shy, and therefore wrong, noting that – as I remember my parents doing and as I now do with my own children (my daughter, Lillie, is only six but showing signs of being extremely shy) – we are scolded and apologised for because we’re being ‘rude’, as if being quiet and thoughtful and taking time to weigh up a stranger is a negative personality trait.  Cain talks as well about something she calls the Extrovert Ideal, put simply the belief that everybody should be an extrovert no matter their nature, hence that scolding and disappointment, the belief of the general public that shy = weird.  You know, I’ve never thought about it, I’ve always assumed that my being shy was a defect and that I’d simply drawn the short straw when it came to personalities.

JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Charles Darwin, this guy...introverts aren't totally useless

That said, I’m a bit of an anomaly amongst the shy, having been diagnosed with social phobia and therefore having a tendency to use crutches to support me through social situations – large quantities of wine at parties, the accompaniment of my husband, a friend or even my kids, and strong anti-anxiety drugs – but nonetheless I have been shy throughout my life and much of Cain’s superb article rings true and feels wonderfully reassuring because chronic shyness is isolating and affects every aspect of one’s life and career.

It’s a small thing but by publishing this article The Guardian has addressed something that really should be considered an awful lot more than it is.  I recently posted about how many prejudices remain in our society, generally accepted terms and behaviour that, well, shouldn’t be generally accepted.  The idea of shyness as a negative personality trait is a prejudice all of its own and we should be tackling the belief that introverts should be forced out of their shells and seeking to better recognise the positive contributions to society that the quiet people plugging away in the background, the thinkers and the understated make.

I’m going to start by accepting my children’s personalities as they, introversion and all, and giving up trying to coax them out of their shells.