“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.”—Susan Cain
Introversion: A topic I’ve wanted to write about for awhile and reading Susan Cain’s Quiet has encouraged me to share a little of my own introvert experience. There are a few subjects that can ruffle my feathers and how often introversion is misunderstood is one of them.
Let’s hop into a time machine, I’ll set the dial back fourteen years ago. I’m twelve and this is the summer I spent dancing at the North Carolina School of the Arts. (Disclaimer: since I know most of my traffic is from North Carolina, let me first say I have nothing against this school; it’s a great school. Both of my sister-in-laws went there and well, they are amazing.) Moving on, this particular summer was hot and the school was an hour away from Mayberry. I only wanted to take classical ballet classes, not expressive or modern, but alas! summer ballet school was about experiencing other forms of dance. I took a chance. One day, I was in some sort of modern expressive class and the teacher wanted us to all move like trees. You may wonder what I did, well I will tell you: I stood rooted to the ground…like a tree. “Trees don’t move,” I thought. Both teachers decided I was retarded. One said, “What’s wrong with her?” then the other said, “I don’t know” —while all the other kids in the room were moving about like a 1970′s disco, there I stood rooted like a tree. Maybe it didn’t help that I didn’t speak up and just stared at them, but I was trying to figure out what they meant by moving like a tree; I wondered if I didn’t know of some magical tree in the world that could move its roots. “Are Ents really real?!” —I didn’t make any friends that summer, I ate lunch alone and while that sounds sad and you may hear violins right now; you would be mistaken. I had a great time. In fact, I decided not to participate in any class except classical ballet, where there are rules of movement. Sadly, my choice had consequences. The teachers were concerned and cornered me, saying things like, “You need to come out of your shell.” “I think you would do better in a public school setting.” “You’re too shy, why —what’s wrong?” etc. And for a while, I considered these stupid questions and worried that something might be wrong with me.
“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 apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”— that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.” —Susan Cain
Boom. <—The glass just shattered.
Summer ballet camp wasn’t the only place that didn’t understand introverts. My Sunday school teachers thought I had some type of social disability. One Sunday school teacher cornered me in the bathroom (several times) and tried to do a Christian “intervention” —thinking I was hiding some dark sin. Who knows. I was just tired of hearing about David and Goliath for the 100th time and listening to two hour prayer requests that were actually a time of gossip or inappropriate counseling. I craved deeper discussions, like time and how God is outside of time and how mind blowing that is. I wanted scientific evidence for intelligent design. I wanted to talk about the hard questions. Instead, every time I walked through those huge intimidating doors I was faced with why my quiet demeanor is a problem, especially since I don’t like to play games.
“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.” —Susan Cain
Let’s fast forward to Saturday night: I was out with excellent company and we decided to stop in to a local bar for cocktails. It’s a great bar, they actually know what a classic cocktail is. We ordered our drinks (I ordered a Gimlet, it was delicious) and while we were talking I looked around and noticed that most of the customers were in their mid-thirties, they were all sitting around tables talking with friends, or having a smoke outside. It wasn’t a party, no one was trying to get numbers, but the music blaring in our ears was Jersey Shore-ish; it was as if Snookie was going to walk in at any moment. Why? What’s wrong with having a quiet $11 cocktail, and excellent conversation with friends? Maybe being sociable doesn’t always mean loud music or consistent participation with groups.
It’s time I set the record straight: I don’t like small talk and that’s okay. I hear you, I’m listening more than you probably realise. I’m calculating and considering the conversation, I may even have something to say, but before I have time to say it, you’ve changed the subject. I missed the window of opportunity, wherever that was. Please, don’t mistake my silence for incompetence.
“Let’s clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” —Laurie Helgoe
To my extrovert readers, I like you —I married an extrovert and he’s my favourite person in the world. You are important. Without you, there would be less games, clubs, movies and other awesomeness that you produce. The world wouldn’t be as sunny without you, or light hearted. You are a gem and you need to keep doing all the amazing things you do —but do know that there is nothing wrong with silence. Deep intricate subjects are not scary, they are wholesome and good to talk about. Disagreements aren’t bad either, I don’t always need to agree with you. In fact, I would rather we disagree to cultivate stimulating conversation.
Introverts: there is nothing wrong with you. You have so much to offer the company you are around. Take your books everywhere you go; I do. Please be yourself. Speak up if you can, and let everyone hear all of your intricate thoughts and be confident. And speaking may look like writing or some other creative outlet. It’s okay to spend your free time alone doing whatever it is that you love.
Go pick up Quiet if you haven’t already. I’m not even finished with the book yet, and it has encouraged me to think differently about introversion.