Dear reader, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about introverts and the introverted. From books such as the excellent Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, to her powerful and moving TED talk, introverts are being discussed more than ever.
Many find it surprising, but it really isn’t.
We live in an extroverted world. We endlessly praise the doers, the hustlers, the trailblazers and the ones who “kick ass and take names.” (Side note: What do they do with the names they take… sell them to spam email marketers maybe?) I jest, but the fact remains, we tend to hold those of an outgoing, extroverted nature in higher regard than their introverted brethren.
Indeed, there’s a belief among many that introverts are somehow “impaired.” Back in 2010, an article by Nancy Ancowitz appeared on the Psychology Today website called, “A Giant Step Backward for Introverts.” In it, she discussed how the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association described introverts in authoritative manuals used for diagnosing mental disorders. The bottom line is that these two venerable organizations took a very dim view of introverted personalities, and in the case of the APA, actually proposed to have it listed as a disorder.
A more sharp-tongued sort might be inclined to make some vituperative or otherwise less-than-solicitous comment here… but I shall avoid such displays in the interests of civility.
The result of this and the general societal mistrust of “the quiet ones” is a tremendous amount of pressure to be outgoing and garrulous, to be extroverted, even when this is entirely incompatible, and even detrimental, to our long term emotional health.
When one is looking for work, employers invariably lean toward the extrovert. An introvert is often labelled as a “lone wolf,” or “lacking in energy.”
Such ideas are, of course, pure bull excrement. While it’s true that introverts do enjoy solitary time, most are extremely effective team players, they simply have their own unique methods. An introvert’s propensity for careful observation and thoughtfulness make them excellent resources when considering a course of action. Introverts are also known for having a laser-like focus on tasks, making them extremely dependable.
Seriously. With real lasers and everything. Well… perhaps not… but wouldn’t it be cool? Someone work on that.
Anyway, some of the most successful people in the world are themselves introverts. Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk and even Lady Gaga are well known examples of this inward-looking personality type. Their daily habits will be familiar to any introvert. Elon Musk for example, prefers to communicate via email whenever possible. It gives him time to carefully consider his response.
I share this preference, eschewing the phone or other “instantaneous” communications for email whenever possible.
As the more perspicacious of you have no doubt inferred by now, I’m an introvert. (I’m also incredibly shy and solitary, but that will have to be another tale, for another time.) I’m not a hustler, or a mover-and-shaker. I don’t kick down doors or take the world by storm, nor am I entirely comfortable being the one in the room doing all the talking.
The fact that I have often been the one in the room doing all the talking (much to my audience’s chagrin I suspect), is due, in large part, to societal pressure to be outgoing, to be a doer, an achiever. To be an extrovert.
Lately however I’ve come to understand that this is unhealthy and a disservice to myself and others. The time has come to fully embrace my quirks and foibles, (for example the desire to use words like “foibles” in a sentence) and accept the place where I am most… myself.
My place is here, ensconced in the wilderness of the written word. Here I can express myself, obsess over every word, phrase and sentence, building meaning where there was none before, using “emoluments” in a sentence just because I like its rhythm.
It’s a sacred space for my nature, allowing for careful thought and consideration, and providing a vehicle for my own unique talents. Writing has been a passion of mine that up until recently I’d never allowed myself to fully embrace.
One final point if I may my carbon-based compadres. While I do want to make a positive case for introverts, I am in no way disparaging the extroverts among us. The hustlers, movers, shakers and get-shit-doners in this world are as essential as those who prefer to sit in quiet consideration.
Introverts are the yin to the extrovert’s yang. Though please, do be careful what you do with your… um… yang.
So if you’re an extrovert and you know someone who may seem less garrulous than others in a group, don’t single them out, or try to encourage them to open up more. Respect their need for quiet and solitude. Let them observe and consider their words and thoughts. And listen carefully.
We may speak softly, but we do have something to say.