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Are you aware that shyness seems to be increasing?

Besides the fact that surveys, at least in North America, have for some time revealed the number of people who perceive themselves to be shy increasing (usually over 50% now), in sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s 2012 bestselling book, Going Solo – The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, he documents a world-wide trend towards more solitary behavior.

Klinenberg reports that in 1950, in the USA, 9% of Americans were living alone. Today it’s 28%. A million people in New York City live alone, and half of the residences in Manhattan have a single occupant. In Stockholm, Sweden, 60% live alone.

Through interviews with these people, Klinenberg demonstrates that living alone is usually by choice.

Many like to see this as something negative, a sign of some psychological disease. I think it’s just the opposite – a sign that we may be coming to our senses, that we might be returning to a saner world. If we lived in a world where most people lived alone, would we have the same appetite for war? For unbridled economic expansion?

Many see solitary people as selfish, but I see them in reverse. If we hadn’t lived through this mania for extroverted behavior over the past 40 years, when, starting with the 1980s, aggression and selfishness have been increasingly encouraged, would we have the socially and politically disyfunctional societies of today, led by people like Donald Trump?

But this has been going on for a long time. Our domination by unshy people probably began with the prehistoric emergence of tribalism about 50,000 years ago.  But this may be coming to an end. Here are my thoughts on that from The Shyness Guide:

Tribal society created the village, then evolved into the town. But when cities developed, the tribal system began to break down. Today when shy genes – wilder genes – enter cities where shyness is a better fit, they’re re-activating. New York City is a relief to shy people who grew up in small towns where their lives were scrutinized daily by other people. In cities all over the world, shy people are living in a new freedom. 

Yes, maybe shyness is making a comeback. As this century progresses, and there is the inevitable backlash against this current craze for assertiveness and selfishness, maybe humanity will become more shy. I hope so.

 

 

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