Paris Goodnight: Keeping close watch on the quiet ones

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 8, 2023

Trying to be the quiet one doesn’t always pay off. I heard the old saying when I was young and impressionable about it being better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt. So I decided to follow that advice.

I kept quiet many times as a youngster when I really should have spoken up, then got in the habit of biting my tongue and before long it became second nature just to sit quietly and behave like the older folks wanted kids to — you know, be seen and not heard.

Before long, I had gotten that strategy down to a science. So whether I knew an answer in school or not, I wasn’t about to raise my hand or speak up.

But people don’t always take silence as golden and sometimes may think the worst of you for remaining quiet since they don’t know what’s going on in your mind or behind some of those less-than-blank stares.

I’ve since decided that it’s not always the best plan to stay quiet. Sometimes yes, but not always.

I remember being in a Sunday school class not long ago when one of the women who sang in the choir was also in attendance when the topic came up. She said clearly that you must speak up when something is on your heart because you may be a blessing for someone else, or you may be in need of a blessing yourself. And no one will know it if you don’t say it out loud.

I’ve tried to be a little more open to that suggestion since then, even if it’s a little late in the game for me. And it’s still not easy.

Even the dog looks at me a little funny sometimes when I’m not saying anything while he’s around. Possibly that’s because my wife is often talking the entire time she’s around him. Of course she’s also in charge of putting down the food bowl so surely that’s why he always goes to her first instead of me.

You might not believe it, but there are a lot of newspaper folks I’ve been around over the years who are quite shy at heart even though they’re involved in such a public operation. It’s almost as if they use the news gathering process to force them to go out and meet people, or speak up when their first instinct is the opposite. And since it’s not natural, that’s what makes it a tougher job for some people to do what has to be done and ask the questions that need to be asked.

It’s not even easy saying hello to people who we aren’t completely familiar with if we’re reverting to that natural shyness bug that affects some more than others.

That’s why I often find it’s more comfortable pounding away at pages at the Post instead of being out in the public eye as editors of the past did.

It’s easier to stare at a computer screen than to get out in the real world. But that’s also more of what copy editors are required to do day after day, hour after hour as my job has been during most of my career. It’s also why our backs ache and our eyes aren’t in very good shape after years on the job.

I had a clear choice to make years ago when first starting in the business: take a job in Wilmington as a police reporter or venture off to the wilds of Vermont to become a copy editor. I took the second choice, with the input of my soon-to-be bride, who also was ready to start an adventure far from home and on our own.

But that started the fateful slide into spending more time behind the desk than out and about, as one of our former newsroom co-workers would say with a perfect Canadian accent. Maybe this new year is a time to switch gears again and get out more — and speak up more also.

But have a little sympathy if you’re not one of the quieter ones who enjoys time reading words on paper or a screen, and help such folks along without putting too much pressure on if you can.

And if you are one of the more silent types, speak up every now and then and let people know what you’re thinking. You might just have that blessing that someone else really needs.

Paris Goodnight is editor of the Salisbury Post.