Introverts can sometimes come across wrong. They often don’t say much, and that can be interpreted as arrogance, or fear, or dislike of the company, or boredom. Sometimes one of these forces might be at work, but quite often, the introvert is simply being himself. Or herself in my case.
I often have difficulty coming up with random chit-chat with people I’ve just met. Children have made this much easier on me, since talking with other mothers is natural. You just mention something your kid did last week and you’re set for the next two hours. Talking about kids is interesting for most moms, and most feel passionate about their children. So do I, and talking about them is enjoyable.
But then there are places like work. In many workplaces, taking a break implies sitting down in a crowded break room and having to talk to a bunch of people while you drink the coffee. My ideal break would be sitting down with the coffee, a book or a newspaper, and having no one bother me. If I have to come up with meaningless chit-chat, I feel even more exhausted afterwards. Extroverts, on the other hand, feel drained if they don’t get to talk to someone. These are simply differences in personality.
Introverts in general don’t hate people any more than extroverts do. I like most people and I even enjoy talking to them. Sometimes, if I find a person I really like, I practically can’t stop talking to them, but then it’s usually way beyond random chit-chat. I love to joke around with people who share my sense of humor. I love to talk about things like literature, science and philosophy and religion. And kids. But the truth is that the world is full of people with whom I just struggle to find common ground. It’s not like we have nothing in common, we just don’t share that much or then finding it is not easy. After trying to converse with people like this I feel about as tired as if I’d just run 20 laps.
I’ve found a good way to work around these issues by writing, but not everyone is so lucky. I spent a long time trying to be more extroverted, and exhausting myself in the process. Now I’ve accepted my introversion, and though that doesn’t mean closing myself indoors and never seeing anyone, it has taken some pressure off. I still try my best to be social but I don’t blame myself if I need some time off on occasion.
I apologize that I’m still harping on about Thoreau, but his unfair treatment that I covered yesterday in more length inspired me to write this. He was a hard-core introvert, and many of his writings point that way. Take this quote:
“I thrive best on solitude. If I have had a companion only one day in a week, unless it were one or two I could name, I find that the value of the week to me has been seriously affected. It dissipates my days, and often it takes me another week to get over it.” ~ Journal, December 28, 1856
Thoughts like this have led some people into thinking that he was a cold chap with little sentiment for his fellow beings. But that is just wrong. Saying that we want time alone isn’t a value judgment on other people, and it isn’t saying that others are somehow intolerably boring and reprehensible. It just means that we actually can overdose on social contact.
Thoreau was probably a lot further on the introversion spectrum than I am. I did a short online test on introversion which put me about half-way between introversion and extroversion. That’s apparently called being an ambivert. I don’t know if this test has any scientific background but it might give you an idea. Here’s the link:
Despite my apparent ambivert status, I identify with introverts. I’m pretty sure I’ve started out that way, and over the years I’ve learned to imitate extroversion. I believe many introverts are forced to do this and suppress their true personalities and sensibilities.
In some respects this is good, since extroverts have it easier. No one usually suspects an extrovert of being anti-social no matter how rotten their social skills may be. People consider it a lot cooler to be going to events and parties all the time rather than sitting at home curled over a book or a computer. The world sees spending time alone as pitiable at best and dangerous at worst.
Introverts may not be the kind who rush around helping everyone, or they may not get chatty with the whole neighborhood and actively take part in every conceivable party and get-together. Introverts prefer one-on-one contact, and while we do like to do our share and contribute to society, we might not feel comfortable volunteering or attending meetings. Introverts often prefer working with things rather than with people. Sometimes we quite frankly feel daft sitting in meetings where people go on and on about something insignificant which could be resolved in two sentences. Sometimes parties, even with really nice people, can feel like hard work for us.
The problem with introverts is that often due to shyness or self-esteem issues we don’t speak up for ourselves as much as extroverts do. What if, instead of sitting docilely in those meetings, we rebelled and demanded for more efficient ways to solve problems? Less talk, more walk? What if we came up with ways to help the community that don’t require us to do things that go against our nature?
Introverts have a lot to give. We write, we read, we listen, we analyze things carefully in our heads before coming out with them, we think things through. We should start valuing these strengths instead of throwing them out in favor of more chit-chat.