Why the world needs introverts
I am generally quiet and thoughtful. I generally do not enter into conversations unless I feel I can add something. A different prospective or maybe humor to lighten things up.
Not fond of parties in general preferring quite get togethers.
I like reading and building and making.
Going about my business without so much talk
In short, I am an introvert.
And though we’re not much fun at parties and have a difficult time expressing our thoughts and ideas at times, we are necessary.
These researchers have made exciting discoveries aided by the latest technology, but they’re part of a long and storied tradition. Poets and philosophers have been thinking about introverts and extroverts since the dawn of recorded time. Both personality types appear in the Bible and in the writings of Greek and Roman physicians, and some evolutionary psychologists say that the history of these types reaches back even farther than that: the animal kingdom also boasts “introverts” and “extroverts”, from fruit flies to pumpkinseed fish to rhesus monkeys. As with other complementary pairings – masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative – humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.
Take the partnership of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr: a formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn’t have had the same effect as a modest woman who would clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation. And Parks didn’t have the stuff to thrill a crowd if she had tried to stand up and announce that she had a dream. But with King’s help, she didn’t have to.
We live in a world of extroverts for these are the ones who are fun and risk takers and make business hum along. But all too often the introverts get the fuzzy end of the lolly pop.
We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”. Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.
Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
But it has been the introverts that have come up with some of the best ideas.
But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there. Without introverts, the world would be devoid of Newton’s theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, WB Yeats’s The Second Coming, Chopin’s nocturnes, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Peter Pan, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Cat in the Hat, Charlie Brown, the films of Steven Spielberg, Google (co-founded by introvert Larry Page) and Harry Potter.
As the science journalist Winifred Gallagher writes: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.” Even in less obviously introverted occupations, like finance, politics and activism, some of the greatest leaps forward were made by introverts. Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi achieved what they did not in spite of but because of their introversion.
But as introverts we are oft time the subject of bias and discrimination. Having to live in a world made for extroverts and this can have negative consequences.
Yet many of the most important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation. As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert. As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. The scientists whose research gets funded often have confident, perhaps overconfident, personalities. The artists whose work adorns the walls of contemporary museums strike impressive poses at gallery openings. The authors whose books get published – once a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure they’re talk-show ready.
If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologise for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” – that noxious expression that fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same. “All the comments from childhood still ring in my ears, that I was lazy, stupid, slow, boring,” writes a member of an email list called Introvert Retreat. “By the time I was old enough to figure out that I was simply introverted, it was a part of my being, the assumption that there is something inherently wrong with me. I wish I could find that little vestige of doubt and remove it.”
Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.
Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.
So lets here it for the introverts. You just might be setting next to another Einstein.