By Tsering Yankey
It is often said that shyness runs in the blood of Tibetan people, especially Tibetan women. Being shy and quiet are considered to be indicators of a polite and well-mannered person. Shyness, sincerity, simplicity, low self-esteem, a down to earth personality and politeness were specific characteristics we looked up to in a female role model.
As a Tibetan woman myself, I was encouraged and groomed to embody these particular personality traits. For example, growing up my mother literally discouraged me, a young girl, from talking too much. She used to tell me or rather lecture me that "a girl should be not quite as quiet as a mute, whereas a boy should be not quite as crazy as a madman". This was a commonly shared belief amongst most Tibetans of the time, and obviously reveals a clear gender discrimination against girls as compared to our male counterparts.
Additionally, young children were told not to be in the company of elders. Specifically younger children were scolded to not poke their nose into the business of elder people as itwas considered to be rude if one did not shy away from the company of elders.
In school, I consequently became a product of this apparent adolescent grooming. I was too timid and shy to ask questions to teachers or to even raise my head and acknowledge a response. Partaking in co-curricular activities, conversation with male peers, strangers, and elder people and singing and dancing on stage were all acts that daunted my innermost thoughts. Once, I was selected to participate in the school dance troupe. This presented to me a catch-22 situation: participate and dread the attention and focus on me or attempt to voice my disinterest knowing full well that my shyness made it impossible to do so. These shy qualities manifested over time and I quickly began to suppress my feelings and emotions. Sharing secrets and private details was completely out of the question. Back then, sharing details to my mother about my first period, my personal health and hygiene were also taboo topics of discussion.
I must admit that misconceptions about shyness and the shortsightedness of the consequences were all a phenomena of the then social system. I cannot lay blame on anyone for what has occurred.
Today, I realize that being shy for no valid reason is not right. I have understood that as a direct result, I missed out on many interesting opportunities and experiences that had the potential to enhance, enlighten and broaden my knowledge and positively affect my life. However, due to my childhood attitude and behavior brought about by illogical and nonsensical grooming, I am now a timid person who is unambitious, who has no high hopes, dreams and aspirations.For example, it is now hard for me to articulate my needs and wishes. I simply prefer to remain unnoticed and accept whatever comes into my life. It is even difficult for me to delegate work to others despite being in a position of authority.
From my own personal experience and retrospective critical thinking, it is evident that this culture of nurturing shy children (particularly females) has caused adverse ripple effects. Therefore, as an interested and concerned party, I feel the need to share my personal analysis on our shared traditional personal trait of being shy and hope to provide certain recommendations for like minded readers.
My personal opinion is that I unfortunately lived my childhood life in sheer shyness and low self-esteem. I lost confidence and thereby lost the excitement and willingness to learn from new experiences and adventures. I fostered a strong self-discouraging attitude. Furthermore, I suffered from performance anxiety, which hampered my ability to perform and present in front of others.This persistent phobia blocked the expression of my thoughts, ideas and feelings. I remained in an enclosed box within the confines of societal expectation,limiting my potential capabilities and future value.
My experience based recommendation is that one should not be shy, come forward and do things which elevates one's self-esteem and boosts self-confidence. A constructive method to counteract shy attributes is to try an informal public speaking class or workshop.It takes time, but the benefits are unlimited.Listen to both your heart and mind, be bold enough to experiment, experience new challenges and become comfortable with saying yes or no. Come out of the box, live out your own dreams and fantasies.
Having said that, one needs to be mindful of their actions. For instance, one must avoid getting carried away and indulging or engaging oneself in activities stemming from negative motivations leading to bad habits and adverse effects on the self and others. One should be able to distinguish between confidence and arrogance and have a balanced perspective. Do not be introverted to the extent that you lose your self-respect and at the same time do not be extroverted to the extent that you lose the respect of others. Try to cultivate a compassionate disposition. Natural shyness is indeed a sweet and appealing quality embedded in our legendary culture. However, when a microphone is put in front of you, you need to be able to avoid running, giggling and blushing, bending your head or passing the opportunity to others. Rise up to the opportunity and take a stand.
With the unwavering guidance and blessing from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, support from the CTA and the Tibetan Women's Association, we are witnessing a new trend of young women empowered to speak up and to seek employment in areas that only men used to occupy. Due to this, the number of female leaders, teachers, business people, doctors, journalists, scholars and so forth have exponentially increased and that is great for Tibetan society.Be the change you want to see and do not let others constrict your natural personality and flair from being the real you. Do not be shy just because you are told to. The author is a senior Tibetan official in the Central Tibetan Administration with 21 years of service. The views expressed above are solely of the author and does not reflect the opinion of the CTA or Kashag.