Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on.
She carries herself erectly, despite having spent the day bent over an ironing board in a dingy basement tailor shop at the Montgomery Fair department sotre.
Her feet are swollen, her shoulders ache.
She sits in the first row of the Colored section and watches quietly as the bus fills with passengers. Until the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger.
The women utters a single word that ignites one of the most important civil rights protest of the twentieth century, one word that helps America find its better self.
The word is “No.”
The driver threatens to have her arrested.
“You may do that,” says Rosa Parks.
A police officer arrives. He asks Parks why she won’t move.
“Why do you all push around?” she answers simply.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But the law is the law, and you are under arrest.”
On the afternoon of her trial and conviction for disorderly conduct, the Montgomery Improvement Association holds a rally for Parks at the Holt Street Baptist Church, in the poorest section of town.
Five thousands gather to support Park’s lonely act of courage.
The squeeze inside the church until its pews can no longer hold.
The rest wait patiently outside, listening through loudspeakers when Martin Luther King Jr gives a speech of praise to Mrs Parks. He praises Mrs Park’s bravery and hugs her.
She stands silently, her mere presence enough to galvanize the crowd.
The association launches a citywide bus boycott that lasts 381 days.
The people walks long kilometres to work.
They carpool with strangers.
They change the course of American history.
I had always imagined Rosa Parks as a stately women with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of ninety-two, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature.
They said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.”
They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”
What does it mean to be quiet and have fortitude? The descriptions asked implicitly. How could you be shy and courageous?
Parks herself seemed aware of this paradox, calling her autobiography Quiet Strength, a title that challenges us to question our assumption.
Why shouldn’t being quiet be strong?
And what else can quiet do that we don’t give credit for?
Parks was not a loud, talkative person, she was not a show-stopper whose entrance was a head-turner, yet her introverteness, quiet confidence changed the world.
We live in a extroverted world that encourages and rewards people who are loud, talking all the time, the world that sees being quiet and low-profile as a weakness.
But in actual fact, people who tend to change the world, people who solves our deep problems, people who come up with medical solutions to the world’s deadly diseases are quiet, thoughtful people who spend hours and hours of solitude thinking, tinkering and implementing.
The more quieter you become, the more you are able to listen.
The world encourages extroversion, the place of work rewards extroversion, those who talk the most, are always seen as “good communicators” and therefore leadership material.
If you are quiet at work, you are seen as timid, a push over and therefore not likely to be promoted. The world of work has become a battlefield for those who talk the longest and loudest. The one who talks the most, get’s promoted.
Even churches encourages extroversion.
Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme… If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It is not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine, it must be displayed publicly.
We have created an impression that the more silent you are with your belief, the shallow your belief is. The more pronounce and vocal you are, the louder you scream in church, the more evangelic you are.
My thoughts are not anti-extroversion but more pro-introversion.
Now that you are an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you are told that you are “in your head too much,” a phrase that is often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.
Or maybe there is another word for such people: thinkers.
The world is changed and shaped by thinkers and doers, not talkers.
It is a challenge to talk and do at the same time. Even Martin Luther King was an introvert.