I’ve been on both the ends – the oft quoted vibrant extrovert- your typical life of the party person, to the obscure introvert you just make eye contact with while going to class. I have now happily settled with ‘ambivert’, quite interesting right? Or maybe I am just a pretend extrovert. That makes so much sense, doesn’t it?!
I don’t recall as to how being called an introvert started becoming a curse in today’s world. It’s as if some moderator turned on a switch as globalization set in – that we all needed to have public projections that correlated with the modern world’s understanding. Our individual traits became objectified to an extent that we became replaceable as well as repeatable. An associate gave me some sane advice, that we need to market ourselves in order to attain something in life, and that life is after all, easily definable as a paradigm of supply and demand.
We choose to manufacture our wholeness – our traits, integrity, dreams and aspirations are ours to possess. We individually, and very systematically over a period of time, delineate our own character. But put that in a social context and the conundrum of existence takes over. We are expected to be a certain way, our expression is bound in a box of social requirements and your modern-day introvert is stretched like a rubber band, with his strings being pulled by the jubilant extroverts. We are expected, mind you, to reveal the selves that we choose not to, or risk social alienation…
In an extroverted society such as ours, it is not easy to be an introvert. We are the marginalized group, who often find it difficult to minister to our needs without being condemned. From being interpreted as shy individuals to intellectuals lost in deep thoughts, we have to endure social stigmatization of the meaner kind. We are labeled rude, with limited social skills, without which our existence in this party-world seems obscure. The animated, energetic people that are bustling with life add to our plight.
But simply reducing the debate of introvert versus extrovert to a binary of shy versus outgoing is to limit the spectrum. How introversion manifests itself is a matter of personal choice and psychological make-up. I have been an introvert all my life and yet have managed to make great friends and go partying on weekends. It still doesn’t say how I expect or imagine my world. I prefer a quite dimly lit dorm, with coffee, drooling over a good book or movie, to a room full of people. Unfortunately, our society tends to bombard individuals with ideas to reinforce extroversion, demeaning introversion in the process as something that is an absence of social traits. The absence of vocal expression of your thoughts is also associated to a lack of intellectuality. The deal is – if you know something, then you must profess knowing it.
Susan Cain, in her 2012 non-fiction book ‘Quiet’, asserts that temperament is a core element of human identity, citing different studies that have already proved Introversion as ‘normal’ and even quite prevalent in men of great importance. When the culture of personality overtook the culture of character, extroversion came to dominate the stage. The extrovert ideal – the concept of an ideal self being gregarious and comfortable in the spotlight leads to a sea of difference between our notion of an ideal self and the real self, which tantamount to introverts being akin to second-class citizens with gigantic amount of untapped talent.
She also, very validly toys around with the idea of how extroverts are heard in open brainstorming sessions, which as opposed to their seemingly important objective, are in fact counter-productive. This means that the conversation might flow towards the direction suggested by a charismatic leader but may in fact trespass a better idea that is conceived in a quiet atmosphere by any individual.
It is imperative that people understand that some people are satisfied with the cornucopia of ideas brimming in their own head – that they are, both mentally and physically satisfied in solitude. Their curiosity towards life needs no external outlet, and it is nothing that needs any apology.
The concept of selective approachability, as often practiced by introverts in any environment, is jarring to others. What we need to understand as a society is that introversion and extroversion aren’t mutually exclusive; they are conveyed in varying levels of each in all of us. It is necessary to understand how undervaluing introversion as a contributing force to the society amounts to creation of a negative space that inhibits growth. This is not written to promote a cultish affinity towards introversion or a bias against extroverts at large but to explain the former phenomenon with respect to rising affiliation towards greater vocalisation by the extroverted society.
So the next time someone asks you to ‘crawl out of your shell’, give them a piece of your mind. And maybe some space.