I was just paying a visit to Gentle Reader Christy's blog, and I found myself identifying some with one of the people she was describing. This fellow was a kind, gentle father and husband with a severe case of depression, and Christy found him to be very shy. That prompted memories of the days when I wore a younger man's clothes (though I'm hardly a Piano Man).
My inherent shyness was very painful growing up--so painful that I can see how it could tie into a serious case of depression. The thought of asking a girl on a date absolutely terrified me, and, outside of the purely academic realm, I lacked the self-confidence or courage to assert myself in the slightest. That kind of shyness strikes at the heart of the human ego and at the heart of the stereotypical concept of masculinity in America. I'm sure anybody whose read my stuff for very long knows that I have real issues with notions of ego and masculinity. There are other reasons I've always been tied up in knots over such things, but my inherent shyness certainly is one of them. My wife thought I was something of an stand-offish, snooty asshole when we first met, but she told me it was kind of endearing. She couldn't figure me out for the longest time (she's standing here telling me this as I type). My brash, outgoing Internet alter-ego is the exact opposite of that person--a shadow poser piece, I suppose. The current me falls somewhere in between. I suppose it's only natural that I eventually would gravitate to a philosophy that downgrades the ego.
I can think of a few factors that have been significant in making me a more assertive person. The first, I suppose, was that I was always relatively successful academically. Second, I managed to assemble a group of wonderful friends over the years, people with whom I grew confident in discussing whatever was on my mind or in my heart. I've made a point of staying in touch with a few of these friends, even if we do live far apart and never actually see one another IRL. Third, my profession requires a certain degree of assertiveness, and, after a while, it dawned on me that I'm not half-bad as a lawyer. Fourth, my adult involvement in the LDS Church saw me in various positions that required me to gin up the confidence to interact--and initiate conversation--with a wide range of people. Fifth, there's nothing more effective at making anybody get aggressive than advocating for one's own children. I've been surprisingly assertive, yet diplomatic, with the various systems that have been involved with us over the years. Sixth--and back to my shadow poser piece--the anonymity of the Internet has allowed me to express ideas more forcefully than I might express them in person. And, of course, I've made some real friends via the Internet.
Good gosh, I'm talking about my personal shyness on the effing Internet. There's something not quite right about that.