Today I’m honored to welcome our guest writer, Juliet Bailey, an old school friend of mine. She’s always been an extraordinary writer, certainly an inspiration of mine. Enjoy, Bright Siders, I’m sure this article will resonate with many of you. But please don’t be ‘quiet’ in the comments section at the bottom, do let us know your thoughts.
I remember catching a snippet of a radio discussion some months ago, during which someone said that we read to reaffirm our beliefs rather than to challenge them. It had never crossed my mind before, but when I then thought back to the books I’d been drawn to in the past I realised that this was actually a very accurate description of my reading habits. More often than not I look to be vindicated; in fact I can’t remember ever reading a book that I knew in advance would offer a counterproposal to my established viewpoints.
I think this raises an interesting question: how should we read? There can be no question that exposing ourselves to new ideas and challenging our preconceptions expands our worldview and possibly increases our empathy towards others and their situations. However, I believe that there are times in our lives when we genuinely need our innermost feelings reaffirming. Inner strength so often comes simply from realising that we are not alone in whatever emotional issue is facing us. When you find a book that encapsulates your doubts and makes concrete what you tentatively but instinctively felt was true, that can be a starting point for real self-belief and confidence. The best books, I believe, take your own ideas and move them on in a positive direction – then a book can absolutely change your life.
There is one book that did this for me a couple of years ago: “Quiet” by Susan Cain. I am naturally an introvert and, like many of my personality type, I sometimes find it hard to function amid the seemingly incessant noise and bustle of modern society. I love my job and my colleagues and revel in the good humour and conversations that we share throughout the day; but by the time my 8 hours of the working day are up I am experiencing a craving for my own silent space that verges on an actual physical need. I also love socialising with close friends, people with whom I have chosen to surround myself because I feel absolutely comfortable and secure in their presence; but again, after a few hours at a social gathering I often reach a point that can only be described as mental overload and I get a desperate need to be alone. I have often compared myself unfavourably to those lucky individuals who are able to hop from work, to post-work drinks to a party without seeming to feel overwhelmed in any way. Was I just an antisocial person who was somehow defective in her relationships with others? Deep down I knew that my need for solitude and head space was something more than that, but I could never quite put it into words, and it bothered me greatly.
This is an instance in my life where, without realising it, I needed to find another voice to articulate my own experiences. When I discovered “Quiet” it was as if a weight had been lifted – here were my emotions rationalised and intellectualised: validated at last. And it’s remarkable but finding that book, and an author whose words showed solidarity with my most private feelings, has genuinely changed my life. It gave me the relief of knowing I was not an oddity, but rather that there are millions of people out there just like me who can only return to a state of mental and emotional balance by being given the time to be alone. It absolved the feelings of guilt I so often experienced when I wanted space away from others to think, reflect and recharge. “Quiet” took an aspect of my personality that I hated but also knew that I couldn’t change, and told me that actually, it’s ok.
This is obviously an issue that was very particular to me and my self-esteem, but I’m writing about it here to demonstrate that in difficult times or with difficult issues, reading the words of someone writing from a point of shared experience is invaluable. The man taking part in the discussion that I mentioned at the start was right – we should always look to explore other people’s point of view by opening ourselves up to their opinions and by listening to the issues that affect them, even if they do not fall within our own life experience. But equally the opinions that we hold about our body, our personality or our emotional wellbeing ache to be supported – and that’s ok.
Juliet is a 34 year old bookaholic! She’s run a bookshop for the last 7 years; reading is her absolute passion and her honour to share with others through writing. You can read more of Juliet’s eloquent reflections on books at www.girlreading.net