Have you ever been misunderstood in your life more than once?
Well I have, more often than I have been understood, especially as a young adult. I am not and never have been an introvert. On the contrary, I was involved in every activity and every volunteer and community group in my town. The fact that I was shy would not have crossed anybody’s mind at the time. I was never more interested in my own feelings and thoughts than the goings-on around me. True, I had dreams like everybody else around me; I dreamed big. However, my dreams did not solely concern myself; they did not revolve around me. My dreams always involved other people and I was never alone in them. I acted and performed better in a group of people than with a single person. I was nervous in the company of a single person, especially if that person showed interest in me. I became self-conscious and uncomfortable. When it came to expressing my feelings, I was shy and hence very much disposed to disregard them. Even though I very much desired their company, I was scared and I could not bring myself to say anything. I was hesitant in committing myself. I sort of wrapped myself in a reserved exterior and no one ever became aware of my heart beating fast inside my chest because of them. As Paulo Coelho wrote:
“Behind the mask of ice that people wear, there beats a heart of fire.”
I was accused of being arrogant and excessively self-confident, of being indifferent to other’s feelings; I didn’t have a heart. They interpreted my behavior as being cold and snobbish and sometimes this led to ill feelings. They mistook my actions and did not ever guess that despite my calm exterior, I might be scared. I lacked the courage to express myself.
I remember a certain incident from my past. I was in grade 12 when a girl I knew in my village, who was attending university in Beirut, asked to borrow my Calculus notes with all the problems in the book solved and corrected. I agreed on condition that she give it back as soon as possible since I needed it for my school exams. Days, weeks and even months went by and I did not see my copybook. I desperately needed my notes specially as the governmental exams were fast approaching. So I went to her house. On three, maybe four consecutive weekends I went to her house and knocked on her door and asked to get my notebook back. The answer I kept getting from her was that she forgot it in Beirut. Then one Sunday I knocked on her door and I heard her mom scream from inside the house, “Who is this? Why is she here every week? What does she want?” The blood rushed to my head. I got so embarrassed and humiliated and angry that I left without uttering a word. On the way home I could hardly control my tears. I made myself a solemn promise that I would never give anything to anyone. Never again. In the end I got my copybook back but I still get goosebumps when I think about it.
Now, a quarter of a century later, I don’t think I have overcome my shyness. I still carry the fear of being misunderstood. Sometimes when I am in a situation and I feel the urge to speak my mind, I still choose to keep my mouth shut. In the vein of “l’esprit d’escalier”, I later regret having said nothing. I still have a long way to go.
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” Maya Angelou