By TOMMY DRUEN
Rejected and dejected, a 27-year-old Walt Disney found himself on a train departing New York City in February of 1928. His trip had aimed to secure a more favorable contract with Universal Pictures for his work on shorts featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Failing to secure an acceptable offer, he now faced a grueling 72-hour solo train ride back to Los Angeles, immersed in his own thoughts.
This cross-country trip would prove to be the most pivotal in Disney’s life. It was during this journey, trying to think of an alternative to Oswald, that he first conceived the idea of a cartoon mouse. The inspiration came from a real-life mouse he used to feed at his desk seven years earlier in Kansas City. Collaborating with Ub Iwerks, his close friend and creative partner, Disney brought his concept to life. Within ten months, Mickey Mouse made his theatrical debut in Steamboat Willie.
Mickey was much more than the average cartoon character. Within a decade, he had been the central figure in over a hundred shorts. In 1940, he starred in the groundbreaking full-length animated feature, Fantasia. In the years shortly after he debuted, Mickey was featured in books, comic books, comic strips, toys and eventually theme parks. This little charismatic mouse spawned an empire that transformed Walt Disney from a single man into a worldwide brand. By the time of his death in 1966, Disney’s net worth was estimated at $5 billion, equivalent to $40 billion in today’s dollars. Presently, the Walt Disney Company boasts a staggering worth of approximately $180 billion. Not too shabby for a business built upon the back of a mouse!
Despite Mickey’s success, mice are typically saddled with a negative reputation. Timorous little critters, they always seem to appear when we least expect them. Startled yelps indicate that they have been spotted as they scurry across the floor in search of a hideaway. Soon traps are set or poison deployed, as nobody desires a mouse as an unwelcome house guest. Despite their quiet nature, a mouse’s mere presence can cause quite the hubbub.
Conversely, when a person is labeled a mouse, it is often done disparagingly. It is often done when describing someone, frequently a woman, as excessively shy and timid. Those branded as mice are expected to retreat into a corner and refrain from any sort of self-assertion. While characters with such traits, from Jane Eyre to Bella Swan, are often depicted as having virtue, they also are portrayed as missing out on opportunities due to their reluctance to stand up for their desires.
Assumptions are made that individuals labeled as mice endure abuse, in various forms, not because they tolerate it willingly, but because the fear of expressing themselves openly outweighs the pain inflicted by others.
The way our society treats introverts is interesting. Extroverts often act as though they have the secrets to life, encouraging introverts to “come out of their shell” with the belief that will cause all their problems to vanish. From elementary school to office environments, extroverts tend to dominate everything around them, leaving others to observe from the sidelines. We are led to believe that those others, viewed as the outcasts, are seemingly in awe of their counterparts and secretly wish they had the courage to be the center of attention as well.
While this may hold true in some cases, many introverts find contentment in their natural disposition. While they may yearn to be in some groups, they are generally satisfied with observing and analyzing situations from a distance before engaging. Introverts are studious, whether reading a book or a room, and they exercise caution, fearing the possibility of making a mistake. It’s not the embarrassment of a social faux pas that troubles them, but the fear of simply being wrong. As someone once aptly described to me, these individuals are not shy; they are quiet. There is a significant distinction.
A friend recently, albeit mistakenly, labeled as a mouse by someone she does not know, shared a profound insight, stating “The good Lord gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason.” And it truly is beneficial when people listen twice as much as they speak. People gain a deeper understanding of the subject at hand and the people involved, fostering the calm, rational conversations of which the world is in sorely need.
Bernard Schwartz, one of the most successful American businessmen of the 20th Century, expressed his admiration for Disney’s creation. “I like Mickey Mouse because he represented certain values. He invested in people, was good to his friends, and hard on his enemies. Once a year, I would have our management team from each division come to an offsite, and I would talk about Mickey Mouse.”
That is the type of impact one cartoon animal has had on this world, as well as the quiet introverts who keep company with him after being dubbed mice. It is crucial to recognize and appreciate the unique contributions they can bring to the table. Just as Mickey Mouse has left an indelible mark on the world, so too can the reserved introvert, if only given the chance.
Tommy Druen is a syndicated columnist who resides in Georgetown, Kentucky.