Introversion is a very trendy topic on the internet these days, and I’ve posted my share of related stuff on this blog. Between Jonathan Rauch’s “Caring for Your Introvert” and Susan Cain’s Quiet, introversion—and the differences between introverts and extraverts (or extroverts)—has been getting a lot more attention.
I don’t know what specifically launched this little social revolution, but as an introvert who is riding the wave, I can tell you why it’s such a hit.
American society is very much an extroverted one—children must do group projects in school, adults have to be part of a team at work lest they lose their jobs, and singles have to mingle or else they die alone. Introverted preferences are looked on with suspicion. I am one of those many people who has been mocked, bullied, or otherwise criticized by people who found fault with my quietness, my choice of solo activities, my preference for a few close friends over an abundance of acquaintances, and my reluctance to start a conversation with a complete stranger. I have been pressed to “open up,” to get involved in more activities than I wanted to, to be “part of a group,” to “just get out there.” I have been forced into class participation and groupwork and team-building activities that go against my nature. I have been made to feel broken, lesser, and wrong for disliking any of it. My story is not 100% unique—many introverts have dealt with the above in some form.
Like many introverts these days, I have reached a far better understanding of my introversion and my personality and simply how my brain works. And, also like many introverts these days, I am rejoicing in this new knowledge, this acceptance of who I am, and celebrating the mere fact that there is nothing wrong with me.
Unfortunately, in many cases this has not brought people to a better understanding of each other, but made things more divisive.
Introverts, learning to recognize their own advantages and rebelling against decades of extroverted expectations, are going too far and now emulate the bullies, tyrants, and name-callers that tormented them for years.
And many extroverts, finding themselves on the defensive and threatened with the loss of their spotlight, are hitting back with the time-honored criticisms that introverts are horrible, freaky loners who think they’re better than everyone else.
Dear Introverts: Yes, we are awesome. Yes, there are great things about being an introvert. Yes, it is incredibly liberating to learn that we’re not broken, we just think differently.
But you know what? This doesn’t give you license to be a-holes to anyone, including extroverts.
Most of my friends are introverts, it is true. But I do have extroverted friends and relatives, and they are some of the warmest and most caring people I’ve ever known. Some of them are also *gasp* very intelligent! They do not deserve to be mocked or criticized for their extroversion any more than we should get the same for our introversion. Sure, I may need to handle them in smaller doses, and I may wish they used fewer words sometimes, but I love them. I may be baffled at the way their minds work or how little personal space they have, but I need them in my life. They round things out quite nicely.
My extroverted friends need me to help them slow down and think about an issue from a different angle. I need my extroverted friends to get me out of the house and talk to new people.
We do not need to force introverts to “fix” themselves to make them more extroverted, and we do not need extroverts to change to fit the new appreciation for introverts. We just need to understand how the other side operates, and be a little more flexible with each other. My philosophy is not so much “everything should be covered with rainbows and sunshine and warm fuzzies,” as it is “hey, let’s just stop being a-holes to each other, ok?”
This doesn’t mean extroverts need to stop talking—although you guys do need to stop interrupting, because it’s rude. I understand that you process your thoughts out loud and sometimes you get so excited about saying something that you can’t help it. I’ve done this, too! It’s still rude. Wait your turn.
This also doesn’t mean that introverts need to use more words when they don’t feel like it. But you know what else is rude? Ignoring someone who is trying to talk to you. You’re not being profound and mysterious when you do this—you’re being a dick. Unless that person is using offensive or harassing language (because no one needs to put up with that nonsense), suck it up and give them the time of day. That person is a person, and giving them thirty seconds of attention could make their week. I promise you’ll get your alone time eventually.
In conclusion, my dear and fellow introverts: Don’t be a jerk! Celebrate your introversion with as much gusto as you like. But don’t be a jerk. Not even in retaliation. Extroverts already think we think we’re better than everyone else. If it were true, we’d act better than everyone else.
So please be kind to the extroverts—we need them, too.
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