A manifesto for the meek

RECENTLY I read about a group of fat people who had organized to fight discrimination against themselves. They said that society oppresses the overweight by being thinner than them and that the term “overweight” itself is oppressive because it implies a “right” weight that the fatso has failed to make. Only weightists use such terms, they said; they demanded to be called “total” people and to be thought of in terms of wholeness; and they referred to thin people as being “not all there.”

Don’t get me wrong. This is fine with me. If, to quote the article if I may, “Fat Leaders Demand Expanded Rights Act, Claim Broad Base of Support,” I have no objections to it whatsoever. I feel that it is their right to speak up and I admire them for doing so, though, of course, this is only my opinion. I could be wrong.

Nevertheless, after reading the article, I wrote a letter to the President demanding that his administration take action to end discrimination against shy persons sometime in the very near future. I pointed out three target areas – laws, schools and attitudes-where shy rights maybe could be safeguarded. I tried not to be pushy, but I laid it on the line. “Mr. President,” I concluded, “you’ll probably kill me for saying this, but compared to what you’ve done for other groups, we shys have settled for a couple of jellybeans. As you may know, we are not ones to make threats, but it is clear to me that if we don’t get some action on this, it could be a darned quiet summer. It is up to you, Mr. President. Whatever you decide will be okay by me. Yours very cordially.”

I never got around to mailing the letter, but evidently word got around in the shy community that I had written it, and I’ve noticed that most shy persons are not speaking to me these days. 1 guess they think the letter went too far. Probably they feel that making demands is a betrayal of the shy movement (or “gesture”, as many shys call it) and an insult to shy pride, and that it risks the loss of some of the gains we have already made, such as Social Security and library cards.

Perhaps they are right. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just feel that we ought to begin, at least, to think about some demands that we might make if, for example, we had to someday. That’s all. I’m not saying we should make fools of ourselves, for heaven’s sake!

Sometimes I feel that maybe we shy persons have borne our terrible burden for far too long now. Labeled by society as “wimps,” “dorks,” “creeps” and “sissies,” stereotyped as milquetoasts and Walter Mittys, and tagged as potential psychopaths (“He kept pretty much to himself,” every psychopath’s landlady is quoted as saying after the arrest, and for weeks thereafter every shy person is treated like a leper), we shys are desperately misunderstood on every hand. Because we don’t “talk out” our feelings, it is assumed that we haven’t any. It is assumed that we never exclaim, retort or cry out, though naturally we do on occasions when it seems called for.

Would anyone dare to say to a woman or a Third World person, “Oh, don’t be a woman! Oh, don’t be so Third!”? And yet people make bold with us whenever they please and put an arm around us and tell us not to be shy.

Hundreds of thousands of our shy brothers and sisters (and “cousins twice-removed,” as militant shys refer to each other) are victimized every year by self-help programs that promise to “cure” shyness through hand-buzzer treatments, shout training, spicy diets, silence-aversion therapy and every other gimmick in the book. Many of them claim to have “overcome” their shyness, but the fact is, they are simply afraid to say otherwise.

To those of us involved in the shy movement, however, shyness is not a disability or disease to be “overcome.” It is simply the way we are. And in our own quiet way, we are secretly proud of it. It isn’t something we shout about at public rallies and marches. It is Shy Pride. And while we don’t have a Shy Pride Week, we do have many private moments when we keep our thoughts to ourselves, such as “Shy is nice,” “Walk short,” “Be proud-shut up” and “Shy is beautiful, for the most part.” These are some that I thought up myself. Perhaps other shy persons have some of their own, I don’t know.

DISCRIMINATION against the shy is our country’s number one disgrace, in my own personal opinion. Millions of men and women are denied equal employment, educational and recreational opportunities, and rewarding personal relationships simply because of their shyness. These injustices are nearly impossible to identify, not only because the shy person will not speak up when discriminated against, but also because the shy person almost always anticipates being denied these rights and just doesn’t ask for them in the first place. (In fact, most shys will politely decline a right even when it is offered to them.)

Most shy lawyers agree that shys can never obtain justice under our current adversary system of law. The Sixth Amendment, for example, which gives the accused the right to confront his accusers, is anti-shy on the face of it. It effectively denies shy persons the right to accuse anyone of anything.

One solution might be to shift the burden of proof to the defendant in case the plaintiff chooses to remain silent. Or we could create a special second-class citizenship that would take away some rights, such as free speech, bearing arms and running for public office, in exchange for some other rights that we need more. In any case, we need some sort of fairly new concept of law if we shys are ever go-ing to enjoy equality, if indeed that is the sort of thing we could ever enjoy.

EVERY YEAR, shy persons lose millions of dollars in the form of overcharges that aren’t questioned, shoddy products that are never returned to stores, refunds that are never asked for, and bad food in restaurants that we eat anyway, not to mention all the money we lose and are too shy to claim when somebody else finds it.

A few months ago, a shy friend of mine whom I will call Duke Hand (which is not his real name) stood at a supermarket checkout counter and watched the cashier ring up 30 15-cent Peanut Dream candy bars and a $3.75 copy of Playhouse for $18.25. He gave her a $20 bill and thanked her for his change, but as he reached for his purchases, she said, “Hold on. There’s something wrong here.”

“No, really, it’s okay,” he said.

“Let me see that cash register slip,” she said.

’No, really, thanks anyway,” he whispered. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that he had attracted attention. Other shoppers in the vicinity had sensed that something was up, perhaps an attempted price tag switch or insufficient identification, and were looking his way. “It’s not for me,” he pleaded. “I’m only buying this for a friend.”

Nevertheless, he had to stand there in mute agony while she counted all of the Peanut Dreams and refigured the total and the correct change. (In fairness to her, it should be pointed out that Duke, while eventually passing on each copy of Playhouse to a friend, first reads it himself.)

Perhaps one solution might be for clerks and other business personnel to try to be a little bit more careful about this sort of thing in the first place. Okay?

TO MANY OF US shys, myself included, the worst tragedy is the oppression of shy children in the schools, and while we don’t presume to tell educators how to do their work -work that they have been specially trained to do -we do feel that schools must begin immediately to develop programs of shy history, or at the very least to give such programs a little consideration.

History books are blatantly prejudiced against shyness and shy personhood. They devote chapter after chapter to the accomplishments of famous persons and quote them at great length, and say nothing at all (or very little) about countless others who had very little to say, who never sought fame and whose names are lost to history.

Where in the history books do we find mention of The Lady in Black, Kilroy, The Unknown Soldier, The Forgotten Man, The Little Guy-not to mention America’s many noted recluses?

Where, for example, can we find a single paragraph on America’s hundreds of scale models, those brave men of average height whose job it was to pose beside immense objects such as pyramids and dynamos so as to indicate scale in drawings and photographs? The only credit that scale models ever received was a line in the caption -“For an idea of its size, note man (arrow, at left).” And yet, without them, such inventions as the dirigible, the steam shovel and the swing-span bridge would have looked like mere toys, and natural wonders such as Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon and the giant sequoia would have been dismissed as hoaxes. It was truly a thankless job.

The scale models themselves never wanted any thanks. All they wanted was a rope or device of some type to keep them from falling off tall structures, plus a tent to rest in between drawings; in 1906, after one model was carried away by a tidal wave that he had been hired to pose in front of, scale models formed a union and went on strike.

Briefly, the scale models were joined by a contingent of shy artists’ models who had posed for what they thought was to be a small monument showing the Battle of Bull Run only to discover that it was actually a large bas-relief entitled “The Bathers.” The models proceeded to sit down on the job, bringing the work to a halt. While the artists’ models quickly won a new contract and went back to work (on a non-representational basis), the scale models’ strike was never settled.

True to their nature, the scale models did not picket the work sites or negotiate with their employers. They simply stood quietly a short distance away and, when asked about their demands, pointed to the next man. A year later, when the union attempted to take a vote on the old contract, it found that most of the scale models had moved away and left no forwarding addresses.

It was the last attempt by shy persons to organize themselves anywhere in the country.

NOW IS PROBABLY as good a time as any for this country to face up to its shameful treatment of the shy and to do something, almost anything, about it. On the other hand, maybe it would be better to wait for a while and see what happens.

All I know is that it isn’t easy trying to write a manifesto for a bunch of people who dare not speak their names, and that the shy movement is being inverted by a tiny handful of shy militants who do not speak for the majority of shy persons, nor even very often for themselves. This secret cadre, whose members are not known even to each other, advocate doing “less than nothing.” They believe in tokenism, and the smaller the token, the better. They seek only to promote more self-consciousness: that ultimate shyness that shy mystics call “the fear of fear itself.” What is even more terrifying is the ultimate goal of this radical wing: They believe that they shall inherit the earth, and they will not stop until they do. Believe me, we moderates have our faces to the wall.

Perhaps you are saying, “What can I do? I share your concern at the plight of the shy and wholeheartedly endorse your two- (or three-) point program for shy equality. I piedge myself to work vigorously for its adoption. My check for ($10 $25 $50 $100 $_) is enclosed. In addition, I agree to (circulate petitions, hold fund-raising party in my home, write to congressman and senator, serve on local committee, write letters to newspapers, hand out literature door to door during National Friends of the Shy Drive).”

Just remember: You said it, not me.


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