top of page

Getting "Un-Shy"

KLARA BAUTERS, HOST: Let’s talk now about loneliness. The Surgeon General has made loneliness a public health issue. And a new study points to people experiencing loneliness more as young adults and late in life. Officials have called it an epidemic, or a crisis.


FAHIMA DEGIA, HOST As Claire Davenport reports, a class is now trying to get New Yorkers more comfy with talking to strangers. 


CLAIRE DAVENPORT, BYLINE: Nolita is hopping … it’s a gorgeous Saturday, and the streets are packed. Unshyness class instructor, Marsel, is urging new student Prathik to stick around.


MARSEL: Another 10 minutes, okay? 


PRATHIK: 10 minutes? I might do this exercise and then I'll go. Is that okay?

MARSEL: I will simplify it, okay?  Don’t be scared. 


DAVENPORT: It’s Prathik’s first Unshyness class. It’s 30 minutes in and while he says he has to go meet a friend, Prathik seems … kind of done.


DAVENPORT (TAPE): How are you feeling? 


PRATHIK: Good. But I think this is not … this one is not for me. It's too much for day one. I will do it next time.


DAVENPORT: But Marsel ultimately convinces Prathik to stay just a little longer. At last, Prathik and his classmate Brendan do the assignment … they stand on either corners of Spring and Mulburry and … roar like lions!


All: We are lions … Roar! Roar! Roarrrrr.   


DAVENPORT: If this sounds slightly uncomfortable, that’s because it’s supposed to be. Unshyness is a class that pushes people out of their comfort zones.


MARSEL: Yes, we are, we are overcoming our fears, but it's not about struggling. We are having fun, firstly, okay?


DAVENPORT: That’s Marsel Shved, the founder of Unshyness. He’s not a therapist … but he knows what it’s like to feel terror when meeting someone new. 


MARSEL:  Our mind tells us that we are going to die. Oh my god, I’m going to be refused, what will people think of me? We logically can understand that people don’t care but your body, your mind tells you know, that you’re going to die.  

DAVENPORT: Unshyness is a translation of a Russian word, Marsel’s native language. It means to engage with someone.

MARSEL:  And what we are doing here is we are training our mind. It’s like our mental training. You are not going to die. You are okay. 


DAVENPORT: Lindsay Johnson is a professional counselor who agrees.

JOHNSON: I love that. What we know about anxiety is the best thing is that exposure. And that's throwing yourself into something that you wouldn’t without doing too much planning ahead of time. 

DAVENPOR: She also appreciates Marsel’s focus on body language. She works with a lot of young adults and tells them something as simple as smiling or wiggling your eyebrows can tell your brain, hey it’s time to go talk to people. 


JOHNSON: And we can make gestures again to communicate to others again openness and friendliness. It makes us actually have the urge to socialize, which is super interesting. 

DAVENPORT: Brendan is the other student in Unshyness today. 

BRENDAN: Communication. Understanding how the communication is received by the other person. Making connections beyond the surface level.


DAVENPORT: That deeper connection is something Brendan says he’ll need need to make his new bakery successful. This is a job for him, so he came in a suit.


BRENDAN: There’s some that involve doing interactions with people where you can’t really control the response, so you’re dealing with that. 

DAVENPORT: Marsel originally started Unshyness in Russia in 2016. He decided to start the group for an age-old reason.


MARSEL SHVED: I was scared to talk to people. I was scared to talk to girls that I want to talk to.

DAVENPORT: Then, he started teaching these joyful, silly exercises, and more people started coming. Women and couples joined. It seemed like he had keyed into a larger need.

SHVED: It’s the most amazing thing when people tell me that it’s changed their lives and it really works. Oh my god. I feel like it’s like a purpose. 


DAVENPORT: Marsel had to leave Russia because of his involvement in protest movements against the Russian government. 


MARSEL: It was the six months before the war started, but the situation in Russia had already been bad. Alexei Navalny was already imprisoned. 


DAVENPORT: I think it's so interesting that you were someone who had struggled before with, like, talking to a girl. Because political protest, like, that's scary. 


MARSEL: Yeah. I don't know, maybe it's different things for me because it's like a personal … okay, no, I … don't know even how to compare this. 


DAVENPORT: Marsel realized New Yorkers could use his help as well.

MARSEL: I love this project and it’s like an art for me. When you live this way, it’s an interesting way of living. You feel alive. 

DAVENPORT: I spoke with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg. He researches people having space to make connections and has written a number of books focused on loneliness.

KLINENBERG: The reality is that, in the modern world, a lot of people don’t feel like they have the connections they always need, but they also have the capacity to go out and build them.

DAVENPORT: He’s not persuaded that there’s an epidemic of loneliness. He actually thinks loneliness can be the kick in the butt people need to get out there.

KLINENBERG: So some amount of loneliness we think is probably a healthy response to conditions that aren’t ideal.

DAVENPORT: But putting yourself out there can be … scary. Brendan told me why he thinks social interactions make people so nervous.


BRENDAN: My guess would be the unpredictability of the response. I think it's, like, probably, you know, you want to be wanted, you want people to love you. If you get refused, then, you know, you might think, oh, this person doesn't love me, or is that, you know, am I not enough.

DAVENPORT: But despite the New York’s reputation for being cold, people in the city are looking to connect. 


DAVENPORT: Do people tend to respond more positively than you would expect?


BRENDAN: My first class, yeah, that was a big epiphany I would say was the responses were overwhelmingly more positive and more warm than I was expecting. There's more of everything in New York. So there's a lot of closed off people, but there's a lot of open people as well.


DAVENPORT: So this weekend, why not get out there and start a conversation It’s good practice. 

Claire Davenport, Columbia Radio News.

KLARA BAUTERS, HOST: You can find Claire somewhere in Nolita roaring like a lion as she celebrates graduating from journalism school this weekend. 


bottom of page