The President’s Corner

Navigating Personalities and Spaces

by Jaime Castle, HUUC Board of Trustees President.

It was a Saturday morning in December 2019, and I was wearing dark jeans, a navy with white polka dots tie-neck blouse with short, fluttered sleeves. My long hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and I had bright red lipstick on. I was getting ready to meet a panel of people, a nominating committee, from the Hamilton County Democratic party. I remember what I wore because looking back now, I thought to dress casual, thinking this meeting would be casual. I had filled out a very long questionnaire – full of my thoughts and stances on political topics like school vouchers and Right to Work and if I (or anyone in my family) had any skeletons in the closet that they should know about.

Now I would answer questions in person. I knew I was going to receive their endorsement because, for one, I was the only candidate that they had for that particular office! I was imaging going into this meeting, getting to meet a group of maybe five or six folks. We’d sit all together and chat. I had a campaign manager. He didn’t tell me ahead of time to be on guard – I was not ready at all for this “welcome” to politics!

I do not remember how long my interview was. When I was through, I sat in my car, eyes blinking fast trying to hold back tears. The tears came anyway. They were tears of the realization of the enormity of my situation – of the panic of this big, ugly world that I thought that I could enter.

I remember entering the conference room of the headquarters. There were probably 20 people sitting around three tables shaped like a boxy “U” and I sat in a solo chair across from them – a hot seat indeed. They flipped through their paper copies of the questionnaire that I had filled out. They drilled me with questions and side-glances, nary a smile to be seen. They were serious and I remember one of the last things that I said to them, before I was dismissed, was a quiet apology, of sorts, that I was all that they had to work with.

About two weeks later, at a social event for the Mt. Adams Democratic Club, I ran into an older gentleman who was a part of that nominating committee. (His name is Rob and when we see each other now, we give each other a great big hug!) He was chatting with me then, at that event, reflecting on my endorsement interview. He said that after I left, he said to the folks there, “Well, it is a shame that she is so introverted!” Lots of feelings came back at that moment but I was distracted from them in processing that he thought that I was introverted. I had never thought of myself as such. It got me thinking about myself and about how people, in general, relate to each other.

One thing that people moving to Cincinnati may often lament is the feeling that they aren’t welcome. They note that people here have this obsession of knowing where other people they just met went to high school and that many local people keep to their bubbles of established friends and established turfs. We are seen as “Midwestern Friendly” yet somehow, also, cold. The “high school question” some interpret as people judging folks – where they grew up, or public vs. private school stereotypes. I pushback on that notion, though, because I see it as a way that Cincinnatians are making connections – who do I know who went to school with you?

I think that many Cincinnatians and I can often be misunderstood and mislabeled as cold, introverted, shy, conservative in manner, and prone to tread lightly. But then there are times when I am, as are many Cincinnatians, very outgoing and extroverted – if I am comfortable in my surroundings and comfortable with those around me. I like going to events and going out, but I also like staying in and doing nothing. I never thought of myself as introverted or extroverted.

I told Rob that night that I actually considered myself an “ambivert,” that I fall somewhere in between, and my demeanor often is shaped by the circumstances in which I find myself. That morning of the interview, for example, was not a comfortable space.

I think, too, that people are complicated, and that we can get into moods of feeling social or not. There can be true introverts and true extroverts, but I wonder if a good majority of us fall somewhere in the middle. I wonder if Cincinnatians are really just a bit shy towards newcomers.

There are many takeaways here. For one, we should not be so quick to judge one’s demeanor. For another, creating spaces where people feel comfortable is important. It’s only been a little over four years since that terrifying interrogation that December morning, yet it feels like it’s been ages. For what it’s worth, I call many who were in that room my friends now. Looking back, I’m mad that I wasn’t fully prepared for the interview and what to expect, but I’m madder that the whole tone of the meeting felt like an attack when it should not have been so. I can’t change the past, but I’m dedicated to making sure that the rooms that I create are comfortable spaces.

Here at Heritage, I try not to be too shy to say hello to someone new, but I also worry that I’d scare them off if I’m too friendly. Some folks here (for example, our gregarious Bob Lamb ❤) definitely shine at creating a welcoming space with an assertive hello!

For now, here’s to my fellow ambiverts – I see you and I get you! And to the extroverts, I appreciate your energy!

To the introverts – I’ll leave you alone now! 

photo credit: Brent Edwards, taken after my second live debate in 2020.