How “Quiet People” are Often Misread and Misunderstood

If there’s one thing to know about quiet people, it’s that your first impression of them is probably wrong. Yet, if there’s one thing that society carries with great conviction, it’s that they have quiet people sussed.

Quiet People are Misunderstood

Noising Up the Quiet Ones

As a culture we are frightened of silence. We are scared of the quiet ones. We are desperate to “noise them up” (the closest I could come to the opposite of “shut them up”), or at the very least feel bad about their softer toned nature.

Many people get uncomfortable when there’s a “quiet one” in their midst. They make judging statements, shrouded with a question mark: “well you don’t say much, do you?”, and “why are you being so quiet?” as if there is some plot being hatched within the devious silence.

No one can know why you’re quiet until they get to know you. If they take the liberty of telling you you’re quiet, then they shut the door on that possibility. This has probably happened to you; where you’ve had your tendency towards space, thinking time, and the resulting external quietness, pointed out. Perhaps by a teacher, a boss, a colleague, or an acquaintance at a club or organisation.

Double Standards

The question “why are you so loud?” is rarely asked with the same kind of universal condemnation of someone who loves to talk. Gregariousness and noise, while sometimes inappropriate, are not met with the same level of discomfort for people as quietness. “Why don’t you keep some thoughts to yourself?” is seen as rude, whereas “why don’t you open up more” is quite an acceptable request.

Society assumes that it already knows why quiet people are quiet. The assessment usually boils down to one of two things…

Quiet people are either anxious or rude:

  • Shyness/Social Anxiety (you want to join the conversation but you fear making yourself a social outcast by saying something stupid)
  • Intimidation (you’re intimidated by the people around you, and shrink back because you don’t feel worthy)
  • Disinterest (you are bored and don’t care or think about anyone else but yourself)
  • Judgement (your silence is judgement about the things being said, and you believe yourself to be above these people)

But as introverts and highly sensitive people well know, reality is a lot more complex than this. Everyone experiences shyness and intimidation from time to time. We would also be lying if we said we were interested in every conversation we’ve ever been part of.

But quietness, when it stems from your natural orientation to the world, is a default way of being. It’s your starting position: to listen before speaking. Understand before voicing an opinion. Experience before expressing a response.

When introverts and highly sensitive people have their quietness pointed out, two things happen. First, it’s like saying to someone that they’re covered in skin. “Well yes”. And secondly, it gets beneath that skin, and makes them feel like there is something wrong with them. They start to question their nature, and wish they were different.

They believe they are broken and need to be fixed, so search for solutions. And in this quest they alienate themselves from themselves, tearing apart that most natural bit of themselves, which is foundational to their very being.

You don’t need a solution. You need understanding and acceptance.

Just remember that it’s the quiet ones are also the innovative and creative ones. They are the observant ones, who notice the things that others overlook. They find answers to problems that no one else can hear. And they have been responsible for creating much of the most beautiful art in human history.

Quietness is a gift in a noisy world. It’s not something to question. Only when you know a person deep down will you recognise the differences in their quietnesses. You don’t need to point it out. You may just need to be there, if they need or want to talk.

It’s not your right to make someone talk. It’s your right to hold silence until you have something worth saying.

Over to You

Have you ever had your quietness pointed out? How did it make you feel? Please leave your response in the comments below.

  1. Most times around my neighbourhood,I hear quiet whispers about how I’m being quiet all the time like it’s a crime…..if there’s something negative one has to say about me is that I don’t talk,as if I’m deaf and dumb, sometimes when I hear such comments it makes me boil inside of me, like I should reply them, telling them o go to hell,then I keep calm and tell myself it’s not worth it.
    They even go as far spreading this misconception and it makes people less likely to relate with me…
    Sometimes it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me…and these people saying these things about me are mostly the grown up male folks that’s the most annoying part of this….
    Truth is most times,I run out of things to say, even to bring a topic to discuss among friends, except someone else starts the conversation… which I have less of considering my environment…, again I have a problem maintaining eye contact when talking to people…
    In this part of the world where I come from,or in the world women are known to be talkative and judgemental, but here in Nigeria (my country) men have also taken up the norm…..

    1. Hey Okini. Oh I’m sorry that’s been happening. It’s so frustrating and infuriating to feel people judging you in such a way. Especially when as you say, you have nothing to say. That’s fine. A position to own. A position of strength in fact. To not feel like you have to speak all the time is a really subversive place in our world of constant chatter and busyness. The talkative judgemental position is not limited to one type of person here in the UK either. And no…there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with you!

  2. She’s a crazy one, completely out of control (said contrarily). Don’t let her out of your sight. Speak up! I didn’t realize you had a voice. I thought when we were first introduced you didn’t even care I was in the room. I couldn’t figure out if you were just shy or a snob.
    Well people, those comments hurt. I honestly try to make a good first impression, but I have to actually try. I rarely k ow what time say. It never comes easy. However, building relationships is important to me.
    I hear everything, rarely speak up & know more than I ever share. I cherish the quiet & see an opportunity for peace. Quiet need not be awkward, it’s kind of amazing.

    1. Oh yes those sarcastic comments! Awful. So patronising and belittling. It’s great to hear you own the quite inside of you – the opportunity to bring your peace to a world that really does need to know when to shut up. I hope you are able to find a calm path that allows you to build those important relationships without compromising your quiet peacefulness. Thanks for sharing, TK!

  3. It was recently pointed out to me “why are you being so quiet” at a luncheon where my partner had invited two sets of friends who had not met before – I had met both groups and had gotten on well with them. I don’t know what triggered my shyness but when it was expressed it made it worse. I tried to engage but when I spoke I felt I was not contributing to the conversation. I just struggled to think of things to say that related and felt awkward to have attention put on myself. I was happy to listen and let others hold court but when it was pointed out I felt it was a problem – that something was wrong with me. I had the feeling that my shyness (I suffered terribly at school with it) was damaging my friendship with the groups. I am now depressed and feel that my partner is less interested in me as well. I am not contacting them until the negative feelings about myself pass.

    1. Hi Robert, sorry that you had this experience, it sounds so familiar. I find the mixing of worlds really difficult (bringing groups together who I know but haven’t met). When conversations are happening it is quite comfortable to listen and allow it to continue. But having the ‘quietness’ pointed out just makes it awkward. I don’t know about you but I prefer engaging one-to-one or with small number of people. I’ve also found that asking questions is a good way to keep conversations moving without attention/spot light shining on myself.

      There are many potential reasons for quietness. It’s frustrating that people feel the need to point it out (perhaps because of their own insecurities). Quietness is scary to people! Sometimes it’s worth considering, ‘what WAS it that caused me to be quiet in that situation? Am I good with that? If so, great! If not, what would help make situations like that feel better in the future?’ This can provide something to experiment and work with in future experiences. I have worked with people on this in coaching – essentially raising awareness about whether or not something feels good to you personally rather than allowing the judgements of others to dictate how you feel about yourself.

  4. I get called quiet a lot. I don’t know why I’m like that, but I always have been. Whether I’m with family or certain friends. I do like being around extroverted ppl tho cause I can be extroverted at times but I need time also to myself to recharge. Around a certain group of ppl I’m more talkative but I’m always still the quiet one unless I’m not sober lmao. But it bothers me and I always question why I am. I’ve just always been a better listener than talker. I keep alot to my self and am very private. I guess this is normal to be this way? I always question it and it’s getting tiring. :/

    1. Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment. Yeah that sounds thoroughly normal! It can be frustrating when you want to be more actively involved but you hold back for some reason. It’s a natural part of our social rhythms. It sounds like there are people with whom you are more comfortable to share yourself and be open. It’s a powerful characteristic where trust develops in time and those connections are meaningful and deep. Plus as you say, the ability to listen is a very valuable trait! What does your quietness help you to do? I realised that it takes me a while to warm up to new situations and people, but it’s not always shyness (sometimes it is). Most of the time it’s observing, taking in information, and getting comfortable with my place in the environment. I get easily overwhelmed if I need to be outwardly expressive in an unfamiliar place or with people I’ve not met before. It’s exhausting! Self-awareness is the first thing (what does my quietness give me?) and then working WITH that to make those situations feel better for you.

  5. I get it all the time. It makes me feel bad when I don’t “communicate” like other people want me to. I try to be engaging in conversations but sometimes I think it’s not enough for them because people are expecting something out of you that is not you. I just try to be the best I can and learn from the interactions I have with people and try to do better.

    1. Hi Jessie, thanks for your comment! Well there’s no pleasing some people! Sometimes we can overthink our conversations too – I know I (and many other introverts!) can spend days, weeks, even years, re-living conversations that people have long forgotten. I still remember things I said 10 years ago and feel regret! And also feel the sense of judgement when I said the wrong thing or was unable to find anything to say. Trying to learn to laugh about those situations and learn something about myself from them! When you think people want you to communicate differently, what does that mean for you?

  6. People point out my quietness all the time , it makes me feel stupid, alone and broken or even undeveloped as a person. When someone is talking to me I take in what they say but it’s like my brain is always empty with opinion or interest and to keep a conversation flowing seems to be impossible it’s just none existent but I’m always happy in social places I like being in groups with my friends and just listening and laughing to what others have to say

  7. Well people will not automatically assume a introvert with SA has social anxiety when the majority still don’t know or understand what it means. They simply see someone as quiet. If I didn’t know I had SA back then, likely others wouldn’t either. Usually, it is passed off as shyness only. This is based on my own experience growing up 30+ years ago (80s and 90s) when there weren’t a name for it. But yes, I do agree with the assumption of not speaking publicly and the fear of it(not always the case) and people would find it rather off putting why many of us doesn’t talk as much as anyone else in the room.

  8. Yesternight I was passing somewhere and I heard one guy saying that “this lady is so young but she doesn’t talk” like seriously 😑!!! I just can’t talk anyhowly and to everyone…..This extroverted world sometimes sucks why can’t the extroverts mind their own business…

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  10. It’s hard to understand the extrovert world. When I am trying to be appropriate in what I say and I have someone attacking my introvert nature.

    1. It’s these little things that piss me off, fortunately I don’t experience a lot of these things, but I’m actively involved in researching people’s testimonies and advocating for introversion.

  11. A few years ago, I would have felt awful and tried anything to make a conversation with that person. Now, it’s mostly disappointment. Pointing it out is actually the worst thing a person I just met can do. It makes me lose interest in them immediately because that was basically them pretending they already figured me out from the first trait I let show. Like I’m some simple riddle on the back of a candy wrap. Stop generalizing, people.

    1. Exactly. I’m a highschool student, and my teachers are always leaving me little comments on my assignment or acknowledging that I should speak up more because I’m quiet. Same with my boss when I got hired, they noticed that I was quiet. Everytime they mention it, it makes me feel more awkward. It’s not that I don’t want to talk, but usually I don’t know how to start, or I think it feels necessary, or I’m not interested.

    2. I am a quiet shy person but when ever I am with the people I am comfortable with I can really be loud and unmanageable so I am somewhat amixture of introvert and extrovert as well . I usually need a lot of time to get to know new places, people or situations and may be a longer time than what most of the people usually takes in real,. Actually,i don’t know and most often during this point I am perceived by most of the people as an odd or depressed or out of the box person and this labellling makes me more uncomfortable and I just shut down myself avoiding any kind of further interactions with them.I feel that in that way it will be the easiest for me to protect my self and put my mind at ease. I wonder how people can be so easy to put the labels on others and why do they lack the empathy ?? I am brutally honest about everything most of the time in my life and this kind of labelled comments make me remind everytime that honesty and transparency makes u vulnerable infront of others so be happy on your own that is the best thing to do.

  12. Since I was a toddler, my parents used to tell me that they thought something was wrong with me because I’m too quiet for a child. Then only when I was an adult did they’ve come to accept that I will forever be that quiet person lol. They even stopped forcing me from going to social gatherings and I’m really thankful for it because my childhood to teenager years were really tiresome from all the forced social interactions lol

  13. It’s annoying when someone points out how you’re quiet, because for me, I’m either tired, thinking, or afraid to be called out as “rude” or “stupid” if I accidentally cut someone off or say something wrong. I try to force myself to join a conversation when I really feel like I need to speak, but what happens is I end up mumbling and not getting my point across. I hate it when my teachers ask me a question and I give them an answer, but they don’t hear properly, and either ignore me altogether, or they assume I said something and point out my “mistake”, but when I try to correct them, I’m too shy and scared to. Sometimes all my classmates raise their voices above mine and I don’t want to shout over them because I’ve been called “rude” for accidentally interrupting others, but they don’t get called rude for shouting over me, so I just shut up and listen, and I end up with a bad grade because I “don’t talk to others” and socialize and stuff like that. If I try to talk, they tell me to shut up because I’m “interrupting”. THEY DON’T EVEN SAY ANYTHING AND THEY TELL ME I’M INTERRUPTING. If I don’t talk, I’ll get into trouble for not talking.

  14. It has happened to me too many times for me to remember how many. At work. In my family. Among people I thought were my friends…etc, so forth and et al. It drives me effing bonkers! I need to see what is being done. Hear what is being said. Be who I am. It doesn’t mean I have to have a comment on every stupid thing that every person says. I want to experience my life the way I do. In my personal way. Just because I am different, everyone has to judge me? Not fair! I don’t point out how someone is always doing something wrong, instead I do it the correct way so that hopefully they will see how to do it in a more effective manner. I don’t judge you…so please do not judge me….live and let be.

  15. Unfortunately, loud people love to “noise up” introverts and ambiverts. It seems to give loud people entertainment and helps them to bond together in a tighter group. This happens a lot at work. Especially when the introvert or ambivert voices their displeasure by silencing, either purposefully or not, or loudly vocalizing in a “See, I can be even louder than you loudees!!” kind of way. Either way, it still doesn’t help.

    1. Thanks Whitney. Yes this is so true. With some people you just cannot win. It’s a situation I recognise. The only way I find to respond is to just take a ‘yeah, anyway…’ sort of approach. Can be really disheartening and belittling. Like noise is better.

  16. I honestly get it pointed out all the time. Most the time, “why do you talk so much?” “Shut up, you talk so much.” Weirdly enough get told those more then why am I so quiet. Probably because I have a smart aleck family as well as friends. When I was with my ex’s family they were the complete opposite from me. Always loud and talking all the time. They’d say the same thing. It honestly makes my anxiety worse. Everyone is now starring at me. Which is the reason why I didn’t talk so that wouldn’t happen. Then I get awkward as hell. Now if I talk it’s because you said something and if I say anything they may criticize me.

  17. this is so true.. people tend to trust the loud people.. but in an ambivert person, people wonder why some times they are so outspoken, and some days they are quiet.. little they know, most ambiverts are perceptive and loyal.. 🙁 no one takes time to know why they are quiet.. ._.

  18. The worse feeling, when someone you love misreads your quietness as though you are ignoring them, being rude, or “not telling them something” – when is none of the above. It could have been something so simple like (oh hey there I wasn’t ready for a convo yet, let me warm up) because I love that person I can make the effort for that person, but quietness is still my nature! I was happy all day, I got to speak with that person all morning. All of a sudden, I get the cold shoulder because my dear thought I was doing the same. I wasn’t.

  19. Once, an English teacher in HS exclaimed: “you always gotta wonder about the silent ones..”
    All eyes landing on me. Some people started making uneducated guesses toward me about why I was quiet. I honestly didn’t know it was hard for them to partially pick up on the fact that I was lacking desire to be there. anyway…
    It feels as though my inner world/dialogue slightly overwraps the moment being in its own kind. Hard to explain, typically. I’ve had a much different life than those around me. Be very gentle with silent people, and I promise, they will open.

  20. Honestly it’s very annoying to have someone point out my quietness. I literally be in my own world minding my business observing because I don’t have anything to say at the moment. I hate talking if I don’t have to, it’s too much energy and a lot of time it is WASTED so I think before I speak.

  21. It really makes me feel like I’m odd when people bring up the fact that I’m quiet. Am I supposed to be the entertainment or constantly talking? Those are questions I ask myself. Anyway, I am very shy but will ease up after some pleasant interactions. Most people don’t take the time though.

  22. Yeah, in school, people would always ask me if I ever talk, and that’s it. They didn’t really try to get to know me, and I was too shy to try to get to know them, so I felt lonely & left out a lot. I’m older now and it’s better somewhat. I actually talk to people sometimes, and whenever I even say hi to someone or ask them how they’re doing, I feel a small victory inside, because I feel like I had to fight my insecurity even to say something small like that. Sometimes, it’s hard though, when everyone else is talking and I’m not. It’s like being back in school.

    1. It’s alienating to be asked things like that. It really doesn’t help! Glad to hear that you have little victories now! It’s all about building little moments upon little moments. Just be gentle with yourself and keep on with those small wins! 🙂

  23. I was being called shy and quite by people around me when i was a child and my old teacher at high school said that i got problems of autism or sth. You can say most of asian people are quite but i think i’m in type of different situation … now i’m 21 years old and i realized that things which people had call me don’t change much because i still feel people around me getting uncomfortable when they doing somethings with me or even standing or sitting next to me and i have no idea why… I noticed that because i guess my sensitive at a very high level or maybe i’m just being over noticing. i felt that awkward in class, at school but i always express nothing but when being with my parents things are very different and i feel i don’t have to noticing anythings i guess because they are my parents… as i said people keep asking why i am not talking much or being so quite and i don’t even know why, the more i think about the answer to that the more emptiness i got inside… sometime i doubt myself to bring me down a lot of time because of the thinking there’re somethings wrong with me like why am i so complicated? it’s seem like everybody else understanding sth but am not. However, every morning when i wake up i choose to shut all the noise inside me and to keep going with the thinking that is the part of me, and the fact that people accepted it or not that’s not my problems. but also the fact that everybody don’t understand you except you are pretty lonely because i love to learn. i love to meet and watching people, i want to listen and i deeply care about people but it so hard to express like “normal” people…

    1. You are perfect the way you are sweetheart. And you’re not alone. Never apologise for who you are. Just always know there is nothing wrong with you and let no one ever make you feel otherwise❤

  24. I seem to want to hear, and maybe truly understand, the conversation to even see if it is something I want to place myself into. Often times, if I cant add value to that conversation, then its simply a waste of words. I have never been much on talking. So many times it turns into someone being evaluated, gossiped about, and sometimes that has been me.

    I try not to come across as rude, I’m not an angry person, but people tend to notice when I am “distant” or “off in my head somewhere.

    One of the weirder things about me is maybe I pickup on a persons “energy” more than the words they use. If they don’t line up… I’m looking for an exit to that situation really fast.

  25. It’s sad… it’s just so sad.

    “The weak are preyed upon by the strong ones.”
    That’s how it should be… but it isn’t.

    Most introverts are incredibly strong, smart… but they get outnumbered by the rest of the people.
    Most introverts are miserable because they’re not even given a chance to speak with so many voices screaming around them.

    Why are most geniuses so tragic?

  26. I’m both shy AND introverted. I had people call me antisocial (that word is misused so much), rude, and assume I’m angry or something. I do enjoy some conversations and going out, but by the end of the day, I need to recharge my batteries at home.

    Also, I don’t think I’m better than anyone.

    1. Great to hear your response Laura! I hate it when people misinterpret quiet as antisocial and rude. The “resting bitch face” thing happens alot – often asked why I’m being moody when really I’m just quite chilled out, and conserving my batteries! Always best to find solitude for ultimate battery charging!

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  27. Looks like all the quiet people here are too quiet to start a conversation about it (LOL! to myself in the silence!).

    As long as I can remember – back to early elementary school – I’ve always been The Quiet Man, kind of benignly ignored by most of my classmates, teachers, and everybody else, including my parents, the noisy ones got most of the attention.

    The people I call “noisy inside” – that’s most people – can overwhelm me with their noisiness, a little of that goes a long way. After twenty years of lawyering I was just drained by the constant interaction with noisy hominids, quit, became a truck driver, so I’m working alone most of the time. Better.

    I think a large part of the reason for that is that I just pay 10 times, 100 times maybe, more attention to everything going on around me, to everything people say, than most people do, I suck it all in, then I think about it, I analyze it, I have learned that I see and hear many things that most people never do just because they aren’t paying attention, too busy talking, and maybe I’m paying too much attention, it becomes sensory overload. I’m probably an HSS, and somewhat socially isolated. Haven’t dated anybody in 15 years, just don’t know anybody I want to go out with or wake up to, wish I did.

    On the plus side I’ve written dozens of songs and hundreds of poems and am currently spinning up my guitar chops and voice and material so when I retire in a few years I’ll be ready to land running on my next career as a singer / songwriter / poet. People expect musicians to be a little strange so I should fit right in.

    1. Yes!! What an amazing story. From lawyer to truck driver. I would love to hear more about how you made that transition. I’ve always thought the life of a truck driver must be a mixed bag! Loads of beautiful solitude…but then does it become too much?

      You must have a great relationship with the idea of work. That’s something I really relate to. Partly why I decided to become an undertaker – piqued my interest for sure! Sounds like you’re quite the creative force too. I bet that time on the road gives a great foundation for the ideas to flow freely.

      And yes, I guess us musicians can be a little strange! Welcome to the club! haha 🙂

      1. Andy

        Well, I was burning out, needed to do something very different for my own mental and physical health, looked around, the people I knew who seemed to have the most job satisfaction seemed to be mostly truck drivers, i figured I’d go drivering for 2 or 3 years and go back to the law, but the longer I didn’t practice law the less I wanted to.

        Somebody has to do it, but I don’t.

        Window time is good, you can think in peace, I spend a lot of time singing along to the CDs, learning 100+ American Songbook Classics now, think Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, almost nobody is doing them anymore so when I retire from driving in a few years I’ll have a nearly unique niche. Like I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN, and THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC. A few of the songs I’ve written fit in that genre, the rest are mostly Western, think Marty Robbins, Ian Tyson, Sons of the Pioneers.

        I don’t do long haul anymore, Sacramento to SF Bay Area, so I’m home every night, or every day, so plenty of solitude, but not too much.

        The IDEA OF WORK.

        Nothing happens until somebody works to make it happen. If nobody works, nobody eats. Driving truck may seem simple, but it’s essential, if people like me don’t drive truck almost everybody else starves to death in a few months, I delivery about 30,000 – 35,000 lbs of groceries 5 nights a week.

        You may remember a small book on Zen called CHOP WOOD, CARRY WATER. A koan. The expanded version is, Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

        Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, just onerous chores you’d rather not do. After enlightenment, you understand that chop wood carry water are acts of love, you give the gift of wood, fire, heat, warmth, cooking, and the gift of water, drinking, bathing, cooking, tea, to everyone who benefits from your chopping wood and carrying water. So even the simplest acts are permeated with meaning, even the simplest acts are acts of love.

        If we think chop wood, carry water, we realize that almost every job, no matter how simple, benefits both ourselves and others. Think dishwashers, without dishwashers millions of people would get food poisoning eating in restaurants every day. In the grandiose scheme of things, dishwashers are vastly more important than most politicians, dishwashers save more lives than doctors.

        So you’re a musician. What do musicians do? Good or even reasonably decent musicians are psychotherapists, often more effective than licensed psychotherapists.

        You go to a good concert, no matter how you felt when you go, you probably leave feeling better, maybe a lot better. Music can connect us with our feelings and dreams in ways nothing else can. Singing evolved before language, music is embedded deep in our DNA.

        I have a DVD of a Celine Dionne concert in Vegas. I’ve probably watched at least 100 times. No matter how bad I feel, by the time she gets through the first song I’m feeling good, it’s inspiring, exhilarating, better therapy than any therapist I’ve ever been to.

        Another good one, RIPPLE, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, what a great song, or LOVE AND HAPPINESS, Mark Knopfler, Dire Straights, both superbly therapeutic songs.

        About 40 years ago I went to a concert in San Francisco with this woman I’d never heard of named Jessye Norman. I didn’t go for her, I went because the first half was the Sibelius Symphony No. 4.

        After the intermission Seigy Ozawa came out and introduced Jessye Norman, who was making her first American appearance after 8 years studying in Paris.

        So she comes out, this beautiful black woman wearing this beautiful red antebellum dress, and it all begins, Wagner, LIEBESTOD, love-death, and when it was over the crowd gave her a 14 minute standing ovation, I timed it. Jesus Mary & Joseph what a voice!

        Nothing does that to people like music.

      2. For me there is never enough solitude. I’ve always thought being a lighthouse keeper would be the perfect job for me, if such a job existed anymore.

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