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Alan Conrad 1968

When Clive Staples Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia, etc) was a boy and was sent away to a public boarding school, he was miserable because he was acutely shy.

Eventually realizing that Clive was too shy for such a place, his father took him out and sent him to live in the country with a private tutor, William T. Kirkpatrick. Lewis was happy there, and Kirkpatrick quickly realized that he was training a boy with talent. But when they were finished, he warned Lewis’s father that Clive was unfit for business or other public life, that he probably wouldn’t be able to cope with anything but a literary or scholarly career. Lewis’s father accepted the advice and committed to supporting his son at Oxford as long as necessary. The rest is history.

When I read an account of this not long ago in The Narnian, a biography of Lewis by Alan Jacobs, it was heartwarming. An acutely shy boy had been rescued from the non-shy world.

Then a voice in me spoke up. “Wait a minute,” it said, “What about us?”

Yes, what about the rest of us, those whose parents may have cared about what we were suffering too (my parents did), but couldn’t afford to pull us out of school, hire special tutors, etc.

In fact, I suspect that even among the rich many children don’t get this kind of protection now. Society seems so universally convinced that shyness is nothing but  psychological weakness that many wealthy parents may not pay attention to the suffering of their shy children.

My father died when I was only 5 years old, so he never had a chance to help much. With only a single working mother, I had no parent available. From an early age I was very much alone, so I set out to solve my problems myself.

Though I suffered because of my shyness all through school, I did gradually solve some of the problems. I was an instinctual loner and the independence that gave me helped a lot.

By the time I was a young man, I was not so shy, though I was still avoidant and difficult to approach.

But I felt sympathy for the shy people I saw around me, and I thought about their problems a lot. Sometimes I tried helping them. You might think a loner would be the last person able to help someone else, but the detached perspective we have is a valuable tool. Even when I was young,  I found that I could sometimes teach it to others. I rescued a few, or at least helped them a bit.

Finally I wrote my two novels and The Shyness Guide (I didn’t know when I was young that I would never stop learning). I wrote them for all shy people, rich and poor, those like C.S. Lewis, and those like you.

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