Amy Williams and I met at a writer’s conference. We barely spoke to one another. Turns out, we’re both introverts, the kind that get along great, once that whole nice-to-meet-you phase is over. We connected online afterwards, and I came to appreciate her insights and her friendship. She is, hands down, the most prolific writer amongst my friends, having published two novels last year. It is common for her to have a gazillion word-week. Amy has shared her words here before, and I’m delighted to host her again.
Nobody believes me when I admit to being shy, but I am. Terribly. At parties or social events, you’ll find me in the corner. If you meet me on the street, I might smile at you, but I won’t initiate conversation. And it’s not because I’m rude or stuck up or because I don’t like you. I’m just not good at initiating conversation.
But sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. It’s an unfortunate necessity of the transition into adulthood. You’ve heard people talk about character building experiences? Forcing an introvert to talk to people qualifies.
So how do you do it? When that moment comes and you have to talk to someone you don’t know, where do you start? I’ve been that person at a new church or in a new classroom, and I’ve always struggled until I learned a very important lesson from my favorite two-year-old girl.
I call her Hoochild. She’s the daughter of one of my best friends, and she’s turned my world–and my understanding of God–upside down. I took her and her mom to the zoo one day, and the moment she hit the dirt of the farm exhibit, my lesson started.
“Sheep!” she exclaimed. “Sheep!” Her stubby little toddler legs carried her to the corner where a two-day-old lamb was curled up asleep. “Baaa!” Hoochild knelt down and petted the lamb and then clapped and giggled and danced around in joy.
Then, before we knew it, she was off running around in a herd of sheep, calling to them and laughing at them. And, to our shock, the sheep started following her around. A real-life Mary with her little lambs, I guess.
Hoochild hadn’t really seen a sheep before. She’d been to the zoo earlier in her life, but she’d been too young to remember. So this was really her first opportunity to interact with a sheep. She didn’t know much about them, except what they look like and what they say, but she didn’t even hesitate. She knew what she needed and was excited to share, and the sheep responded to that.
It’s easy to tell the story because it’s cute, but if you think about it, there’s an important lesson Hoochild can teach everybody about making friends.
Making real friends isn’t about what we need. Truly connecting with other people isn’t an act of selfishness–or at least, it shouldn’t be. The most enduring friendships I have ever experienced have happened when I reached out to someone in love, not expecting anything in return, just wanting to share a moment or something God taught me about life.
How often do we talk to someone else just because we want them to be happy or comfortable? For people like me, I walk into a new environment and instantly turn my eyes inward because I’m uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean the girl in the corner is any less uncomfortable than I am.
It’s at that moment I have a choice. I can sit in my discomfort in the corner and refuse to speak to anyone. Or I can be brave and courageous and get over my own shortcomings in order to comfort someone else. It’s a hard choice, but the best choices are never the easiest ones.
What do you say? How do you start? Well, what did Hoochild need? She didn’t need much. She just needed to know what a sheep says, and that’s how her conversation started. Hoochild didn’t worry that the sheep didn’t speak her language. She went out of her way to speak their language.
Now, I don’t recommend running up to a stranger and “baaa-ing” in their face. That probably won’t end well. But you can complement them on what they’re wearing. Maybe they have beautiful hair. Maybe they have a cute handbag. Whatever. The point is to look for things that will open the door for you to start a conversation.
And before you know it, you won’t be thinking about how awkward you feel. You won’t be thinking about how shy you are. All you’ll be thinking about is learning more about the person you’re talking to, and generally the other person will feel the same way in return.
Being shy doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Who knows? That quiet girl in the corner who you’re afraid to talk to might be the best friend you just haven’t met yet.
A.C. Williams is a freelance writer/editor and novelist with a degree in communication from Wichita State University. She has operated her daily devotional blog, www.AlwaysPeachy.com, since 2011, and you can follow her travels on her blog www.iwanderlost.com. Her debut novels, Nameless (2014) and Finding Fireflies (2015), are available electronically from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When she isn’t writing, she hangs out at her family’s 100-year-old farm on the Kansas prairie. She is single, loves cats, and drinks far too much coffee.