Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Introverts unite! (No, wait, not so close ...)

Susan Cain's book about introversion made quite a splash in January, and the ripples are still going strong. Her work came back to my attention recently, as I've been doing some consulting for schools that help children "come out of their shells." There's much to be said for teaching introverts to advocate for themselves, and to present themselves in ways that don't accidentally put others off. We need basic social skills to function in any society, and enabling people to master them is honorable work.

On the other hand, Cain's right--our culture does have an extroversion bias. When we talk about bringing kids (or adults) out of their shells, we often imply that introversion needs to be treated and overcome, rather than worked with or even celebrated. I notice, too, that Cain points out a difference between introversion and shyness, where shyness is a fear of social judgment, and introversion is simply a preference for less stimulating environments (a glass of wine with a good friend, rather than a big party). This definition of shyness does suggest a problem, a form of self-tormenting that isn't necessary and doesn't do anybody any good. Whereas introversion, properly recognized, can be a great thing for all involved. We like solitude, and we get a lot done that way. We also, as Cain points out, are not anti-social, but differently social (see wine, above). We think before we speak, which others tend to appreciate.

It really has been only in the last few weeks that I've started to consider introversion as a positive trait, rather than something to be "dealt with," i.e., concealed. Perhaps we introverts could have calmer and more productive lives (though many of us have these already, because we seek them) by minimizing the struggle to appear extroverted. That is, we still need to go out in the world sometimes and be friendly. But I suspect there's some wasted effort in dissing ourselves for not being more extroverted, and in trying too hard to conceal our inclinations.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Walls said...

An introvert myself, I totally agree with this assessment of introversion vs extroversion. Since starting the MFA program I've been so barraged with parties and readings and sundry other events, and I just don't have the mental energy to attend all of them. Some people do, though, and I've found myself unduly envying them for that. Lately, though, I've been describing myself as "semi-social"--that seems to put people at ease. At least, they don't think I'm a weirdo who blows off shindigs because I hate people or something.

Also--I just noticed you are following one of my blogs, and I wanted to say two things about that. The first is, huge thanks! I've been reading yours for just a little while, haven't been brave enough to comment.

The other is (and I'm afraid this sounds presumptuous), the one you're not following is about lit and writing stuff, and the one you are following is about politics and religion stuff. They're separate because I've gathered (from my friends' reactions to things I share online) that I probably have two distinct potential blog audiences. But hey, whatever floats your boat!