Friday, October 29, 2010


"Join the party!"

Its one of those "two types of people" trusisms: there are introspective people and extroverted people. Humanity isn't so simple as to be easily divided into two groups like that, and everyone is more one way or another at different times and circumstances in their lives. Yet it is true that most people tend to be more one or the other.

Extroverts are characterized by being gregarious, friendly, dynamic personalities who make a lot of friends, are easily noticed and tend to be liked. They are influential, prefer company and a busy lifestyle, and are often the more visibly successful folks in modern culture.

Introverts are more quiet and inwardly directed. They tend to seem shy and awkward in public, and in fact can be very uncomfortable and even grow ill if they are too bombarded with crowds, noise, and activity. Introverts are more thoughtful and less social, having fewer friends but tending to be significantly more loyal to that smaller group.

Recent studies show that introverts make up as much as 50% of the population of the world, yet in modern culture you'd hardly know that. So much emphasis is put on being socially dynamic and capable and so much shame and dislike is put on being shy, withdrawn, or private that you just don't see much mention of the introvert, or attention shown to them, unless its negative. Some call these sorts psychologically damaged and seem to think that they need to be "fixed" so they fit in better to consumer, party culture.

Introverts contribute at least as greatly to society as extroverts, but in their private, quiet way so that it isn't as well known and obvious. Introverts tend to be more thoughtful and the more intelligent a person is, the more likely they are to be introverted: a gifted person with high IQ is 60% likely to be introverted as opposed to extroverted. Introverted people tend not to reach out to others and social gatherings because they find their minds so busy with internal conversations, stories, ideas, and debates that they are less needy of others to fill that need for interaction. It's noisy inside their heads, even if they are very quiet.

Its important to understand the difference between shyness and introversion. Shy people are socially uncomfortable and dislike attention from others. Introverts are merely inwardly focused, thinking and analyzing rather than talking. Shy people will avoid contact out of discomfort and embarrassment, introverts avoid contact out of disinterest and focusing on thoughts and ideas. Introverts aren't shy, they're just busy even if they don't look it.

Another thing to understand is that neither shy people nor introverts are necessarily arrogant or look down on people. They might seem that way, but they are just not as interested in small talk and usually aren't any good at it. Introverts are short with people not out of any dislike or annoyance but because they are trying to get to the point. Introverts aren't very smooth in social situations not out of dislike but out of distraction, and a need to think about whats going on and what they are doing.

Introverts also need time alone. Their minds tend to be perpetually busy and in a whirl of thoughts and ideas, and they can't deal with both that and lots of interaction and noise very well. Some get headaches or sick, some just get really crabby and upset, others just leave. The time alone and in quiet gives introverts a chance to relax a little and rest. They just don't deal well with crowds, it isn't fear or contempt, its nerves and only having so much focus and energy available.

The trick is to realize what someone is (even yourself) and not try to "fix" them by making them one way or another. You're who you are, and that's your personality - and perhaps even your physiology. Both extroverts and introverts are needed, each contributing their own abilities and specialty to society. Each has their strengths and weaknesses and we need to make sure we don't demean one or the other, or worse yet demand everyone be like one or the other.

Personally I'm introverted, so I see things from this perspective, like an outsider to the party. I don't like big gatherings, cities make me nervous and uncomfortable, parties are annoying and I get ill if things get too busy or I'm around people too long. That's just part of life. Blogs and online give me a chance to interact quietly and effectively without tiring myself out too much, I can give as much as I have energy and need to without going too far, and its always easy to back away.

The danger for introverts is that we'll become too inwardly focused and literally self-centered. Introversion is very easy to feed by drawing away from everyone else and focusing on yourself and your ideas. Introverts very much need people to disagree with them, challenge them, and force them to see things another way. Introverts also need to continually challenge themselves with new ideas, input, and thoughts through arts, literature, debate, and science. Without that continual feed, introverts can easily become entrenched and lose their insightful edge, and thus use to anyone else.

If you know an introvert, we need love too - at least as much as extroverts. We just don't show it the same way.

1 comment:

eric said...

I think it is important, as you hint at, for both introverts and extroverts to push themselves into uncomfortable areas. Extroverts can benefit enormously from spending some time alone with their thoughts, even though they rarely want to do so. For extroverted men, hiking, hunting, and fishing are excellent ways to achieve this.

For many introverts, I think it is important to develop stronger social skills and keep them honed. Church or civic groups are probably adequate for this, but even then it is still important to be able to mix comfortably with different social groups.

Personally, I was much more introveted when I was younger, but for business reasons I had to make a conscious effort to be more socially engaged. I'm glad I did, it has paid off in many ways (not just monetary)... but now I have to remind myself to find time to just be in my own head for awhile.