A Medical Doctor’s Insight into Shyness – the Bampa Notes

The following quotes are from notes left by Clark W. Heath, MD. (known as Bampa) a medical doctor who was shy himself and was “interested in people all his life – interested in their thoughts, their feelings, their career choices, their growth and development, their interaction with other people, their total life adjustment. He had great personal interest in shyness because he himself was shy and had vivid memories of his own shy agonies as a young person. His notes on shyness, therefore, include an autobiographical account of his own struggles with being shy, an account which reveals much about himself as a sensitive and insightful person as well as about his own family heritage.”

Bampa writes “Having had to struggle painfully with shyness myself, I have felt a sympathy with others who are shy, I am a physician, and I have observed in others, and I have wondered if perhaps I could help people to conquer their shyness or at least to live with it. Since I am over 50 years of age, my shyness is no longer the crucial thing it was, albeit still bothersome. I have learned that what was true in my case is repeated over and over in youngsters today.  Perhaps my experience will help shy people to realize they are not unique.”

The Bampa Notes contain valuable insight into shyness because they come from a physician who was shy, someone who studied others who were shy, and someone who created a happy and fulfilling life. I believe shyness is a complex subject and that the human mind, spirit and personality are understood by science and psychology in only a very limited way.

Someone who is shy themselves can have the deep level of understanding, insight, intuition, compassion, and credibility required to really understand the truth behind shyness.  Bampa’s writing reminds me of the writing of Elaine Aron PH.D., a shy/sensitive psychotherapist who wrote “The Highly Sensitive Person” in 1996 which is causing the psychology community to admit decades of misunderstanding shyness.

Summary Quotes

“Shyness… is present in every “normal” person…”

“… is shy because he really is a social person …”

“Quietness and shyness were somewhat virtues and not necessarily something to counteract or battle against.”

“As I search for crucial errors my parents may have made, there is only one possible thing that stands out; that they allowed me to use bashfulness as a tool to get my way.”

Quotes

Bampa writes “Shyness can be an extreme handicap, just as much so in rare instances as the affliction of deafness, blindness, or severe lameness.  Shyness, however, is present in every “normal” person, in some degree and in certain circumstances. If one lived alone on a desert island, with no dangers or threats, he could not be shy, for there would be nothing to be shy about. But no one lives in this way (if he did he would be extremely unhappy). We live socially, with family, friends and acquaintances and in communities of groups of people.  In the main, I believe one is shy because he is self-conscious of the people about him; he is afraid of something – usually of something he is unfamiliar with.  He wants affection, friends and recognition, and he fears the opposite; rejection, enemies and ridicule – threats to his happiness. Having been rejected or ridiculed at times (who hasn’t been?), he behaves in a shy way.”

“But being shy is more complicated than this.  What I would like to emphasize is that the shy person is shy because he really is a social person; he likes people and is sensitive to them.  He is lonely without a social life, and yet the threats of social life interfere with his obtaining the very happiness that he seeks.”

“As I search for crucial errors my parents may have made, there is only one possible thing that stands out; that they allowed me to use bashfulness as a tool to get my way. Quietness and shyness were somewhat virtues and not necessarily something to counteract or battle against.”

Notes on Gandhi’s Autobiography

Bampa’s notes on Gandhi’s Autobiography: “The Story of My Experiments with Truth,” by M. K. Gandhi, Trans. by M. Desai Public Affairs Press, Washington DC, 1948. Page 81, Chapter XVIII Shyness My Shield: All his life Gandhi was shy of speaking in public.  Had things to say in committee meetings but could not bring himself to speak.  Preferred to write out thoughts in advance. (Cites Addison’s first speech in Parliament “I conceive” three times; failure of Gandhi to make a humorous speech.)  Could not entertain guests by keeping idle conversation going. Page 84.

“I must say that, beyond Occasionally exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no disadvantage whatever. — Its greater benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. — A thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. — Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. — My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler.  It has allowed me to grow.  It has helped me in my discernment of truth.”

Acknowledgments

The notes cited here are courtesy of Andrew S. Heath and were quoted in August of 1998.