Let’s Hear It For The Quiet Ones

It’s been a hard 16 months and we all have stories to tell about how lockdown has affected us. I’m hoping we’re coming to the end of it now. I’m also hoping that we humans, being generally very resourceful, may find we forget all our visceral feelings more quickly than we’d expect. 

But there’s one group who I’m told have had a better lockdown experience than others. And that’s the quiet ones.

Let me take you back to your childhood … remember the ones in the classroom whose hands shot up at the hint of a question? Yes, and you could probably remember their name too, even now. 

Our PM, Boris Johnson, is a shining example of someone who appeared to have a star-like quality early on. It may not have come easy to him at the start – I’ve read the Tom Bower biography on him and I’m not sure I’d have been that happy with his childhood – but he took the hand he was dealt with and ran with it. And now, some 45 years on, here we are. You can’t get a much higher public profile than Prime Minister.

If we look at previous PMs (with one or two exceptions), they seem to fit the mould of early high achievers who stood out in a crowd. That could almost apply throughout western culture where heads of industry/entertainment/third sector organisations.  

But what about those who kept their hands firmly by their sides and were terrified of being picked to speak up in class? What about those so-called shrinking violets who, certainly in Boris’ time at school, were derided and scorned because of their reluctance to throw themselves forward? Where are they now, we might ask. 

First, there are sometimes good reasons why children hold back. Who jumps up to answer a question when they have no idea what the answer is? Who, unless you’re either slightly lacking in imagination or have great social skills, really enjoys walking into a room knowing nobody and being expected to perform? If you do, lucky you. You are the exception. Or the one whose hand always went up first.

It is evident many children have been severely effected by lockdown through both schooling and the isolation they’ve experienced. We humans are social beings and we need others, even if only to keep away, as I was once told.

However, I’ve now been told that some children – and their adult equivalents – have really enjoyed the non-competitive nature of lockdown. Parents talk of how a child has thrived away from the pressure of the class and the expectations that, in order to succeed, they have to be “out there” from the start. 

In turn, the parents have had time to reflect on their own expectations for their children and are reconsidering their own value judgement system. Could it be that this will be a bottom-up revolution, where the children lead the way? Probably not, but it’s a thought.

I am wondering how it would be if those in charge decided to consider what the quiet ones could do for society if allowed to bring their reticence into the group. 

Could we all benefit from a less frenetic way of being, with time to reflect calmly and thoughtfully before we take action, rather than reacting by instinct and then finding out our decision is not that great? I’m hoping you’ll agree it’s bad enough when we rush to judgement as an individual; it’s a lot worse when we do it as the leader of a country. 

Maybe it’s time to consider choosing a leader who doesn’t actively stand out in a crowd. 

It would be harder, certainly, because the one jumping up and down in front of you with his/her hand raised makes it difficult for you to see who else is there. However, in the same way that the teacher may say: “Not you, (insert preferred name here), we’ve heard a lot from you recently. Let’s give so-and-so a turn.” We could look into the pool of potential bosses and see who might have our collective best interests at heart. We might be in for a positive surprise. 

Back to those quiet children of days gone by and the question of where they are now. 

Since Facebook’s arrival and its active take-up by older fans, I’ve been lucky enough to discover for myself how my own contemporaries are doing. Some of them did indeed become well-known and successful faces and I can certainly see some who were noisy team leaders from eight upwards are still pretty vocal. 

But the quieter ones, the ones whose names I’d forgotten, are very much there too. I look at old pictures and see faces decades down the line which are recognisable as those of the young schoolmates I knew. I read about them, discover their stories and learn that their lives have been just as eventful and rewarding as the form leaders of the past.

The only difference is that those same schoolmates have stayed quiet about their lives. They were still doing – and they were still being – but they have stayed true to themselves. They were quiet then, they are quiet now. 

I’ve learned a lot in this lockdown about the need and the importance of managing solitude. You really do have to reach down to your inner reserves to find out the best way to survive and live when semi-isolated from the outside world. It’s been a struggle, but it seems, for once, the quiet ones have come out on top. 

So let’s hear it for the quiet people everywhere. Let’s thank them for their thoughtfulness, their wisdom and their grace in staying as they want to be. Let’s applaud them, but quietly. 

By Lulu Sinclair

Good reads: 

In Praise of Slowness: Carl Honore

The Power of Quiet: Susan Cain

Helping Quiet Pupils to Find Their Voice