The Gray Man

I wonder how often I’m noticed? It’s something I’m thinking about and working on just now. I seem to have a knack of fading into the background. I’ve never been at ease in group discussion or anywhere that there is lively conversation going on. I find it really difficult to interject or push my way forward. It’s all too easy for me to simply give up even trying.

It’s funny how these difficulties can be traced back to early childhood experiences. I grew up in an era when it was deemed to be spoiling a child if you gave it too much attention. Although how much was too much was never very clear. I don’t know for sure, and I guess that one can never be sure really, but I have a gut feeling that I was simply ignored a lot. My mother once said that I was a bit “colicky”, so presumably I cried a bit. I can’t be sure if, in those very early months, I was successful in gaining attention for what ailed me by crying. But for the purposes of this writing I’m going to assume I didn’t, and speculate about the effect this might have had on my developing personality.

My gut feeling is that at some point I simply gave up trying to get attention. I’m guessing that I eventually felt I was just wasting energy trying to get someone to attend to whatever need or distress I was suffering. I think I became a quiet child and therefore not an issue for any of the adults around me.

The problem was that this behaviour didn’t just stay limited to my home life. I took it with me to primary school and, presumably because I wasn’t any trouble, I was seated in the middle or more often than not at the back of the class. Whereas the more lively or naughty or even those who were considered the brightest children were positioned towards the front.

And there lies another damaging aspect of this pattern of behaviour I adopted; that the quiet children were often considered to be not very bright. Brighter children tended to be popular and therefore given more and better quality attention than their less fortunate classmates.

I shifted my attention to things that I could research and study on my own. Group learning of any form wasn’t my thing. There were always more confident, forceful individuals who dominated the group. So I gradually drifted towards the edges, and very soon it became almost second nature for me to become invisible.

There were other downsides to this behaviour. It was very lonely for one thing. It could also be risky too, particularly if I was spotted by individuals who felt somehow threatened by my behaviour. So I came in for a fair amount of taunting and bullying. It also put something of a damper on my social skills later in life. I spent a lot of time in bars nursing a glass or bottle all evening, just watching the behaviour and dynamics of other people and groups. The rest of humanity became my Petri dish, and I guess the alcohol served to numb my loneliness.

It’s taken me a long time to work through these difficulties, but I do feel I’ve made some progress. Although I guess I’m never going to be an extrovert.

Where I remain struggling is in asserting myself in certain situations. An example of this would be group discussions that become heated, even in a light hearted way. Often many people will be talking across each other to the degree that I find it extremely difficult to get in on the debate. Sometimes I’ve managed to reel off an entire sentence and the group has carried on as if I wasn’t there. Which leaves me feeling anxious and irritated and even less likely to contribute.

Someone once suggested that I would probably have made a really good hermit. I think they were right.


What is a Gray Man?

“The concept of the gray man revolves around the idea of a person who does not draw attention to himself, who does not stand out from the normal inhabitants of a location in any way. A gray man can move through an area, even through a large group of people, without anyone taking special notice of him.”

One thought on “The Gray Man

  1. Tried to comment on WordPress but can’t get in 🙄 … said: I love this. It calls to mind the phrase “wallflower children “ often attributed to quiet, ‘no trouble’, under the radar pupils in a classroom. Thing is, wallflowers are beautiful too.



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