Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The new dirty word: Introvert

I'm an introvert - a strong one at that. I need time alone and apart to recharge. I need time to process the things that have happened to me. I need time alone to sort through the emotions and situations and words and arrive at some semblance of an answer. I need time to reflect. I need time to figure out who I am in light of everything I have experienced, and everything I believe.

If I recall, approximately 30% of the population in the United States are introverts. By the way, that percentage goes up as IQ increases. Make of that what you will.

Since the majority of the American population are on the extrovert side of the fence, introverts tend to be misunderstood. I read a pretty good article a couple of months ago entitled "Top 5 Things Every Extrovert Should Know About Introverts". You should check it out - it's an easy read. To reiterate the article, introverts are not shy, arrogant, or socially inept, as they tend to be labeled. Instead, introverts are simply not group focused, intolerant of shallow conversation, and socially reserved.

In a society that values the quick satisfaction that can be given by a Google search, or by a cheap laugh from watching an episode of The Office, or by that energized feeling you get when you hang out with that ultra-extrovert who "brings the party", that misunderstanding cuts deep. Images of spontaneous interaction capture our minds and our hearts - whether it kissing a stranger in the street during a fit of joy, dancing with that strange girl in the club, or meeting the perfect guy in the baking goods aisle of the grocery store. These things capture us because, as extroverts see it, interaction is what runs the world. Things get done when people rub elbows, when they party together and get to know one another. People only get energized when they are around other people and can feel the closeness of human presence. The person who brings the party is the person who brings the life and energy to the world; the human dance is what gives motion to our being. In such a world, introvert is a dirty word.

And so, as I've done more often than I should, introverts make nice and act like extroverts in order to be accepted, even when they would rather find new friends at Borders Bookstore than at Williams Uptown Pub and Peanut Bar. Yet as I've considered the real hopes and fears and struggles of the people I've talked to, I've realized something important - everybody needs to know an introvert who acts like an introvert. And, everybody needs to know an extrovert who acts like an extrovert.

With too many of the extroverts I know, communication can't get past the surface. Sure, there's a lot of talking going on, but not much actual communication that makes a difference. Sometimes lack of communication manifests itself as problems with family, sometimes as problems with getting into bad relationships, and sometimes as problems with thinking about God.

Sometimes it takes an extrovert discussing their broken relationships with an introvert to figure out how to get past all the years of hurt and misunderstanding in order to actually communicate the depths of their feelings to someone else. Sometimes it takes having a deep conversation with someone familiar with the deep to help you figure out what you don't even know about yourself. Introverts help us to go deep.

With too many introverts that I know, their thoughts are more important than the thing they are thinking about. I'm frequently guilty of this myself. Sure, there's a lot of thinking going on, but not much that makes a difference to what is being thought about. Sometimes this manifests itself as questionable statements like, "It's the thought that counts" or "Do what I say, not what I do." Sometimes, it manifests itself as being unapproachable, or unloving, or unrealistic about how the world actually works.

Sometimes it takes an introvert working alongside an extrovert to figure out how the thoughts and ideas and theories actually apply to reality. Sometimes it takes rubbing elbows with those who are outward focused to realize what a difference saying the little things actually makes. Sometimes it takes a quick conversation with someone who makes the world come alive to figure out what you don't realize about others. Extroverts help us meet with the real.

The reality is that we need one another. I can't help but wonder if the cosmic balance of human introverts to extroverts is on purpose. Maybe we need more doers in the world than thinkers. Maybe we need more people in the world to be the Mother Theresas, rubbing elbows, starting the party, and showing how to act in beautiful ways out of passion for action. At the end of the day, though, we need the Aquinas', too, thinking about the deep, churning up the dirt, and helping us to develop an internal dialog from which beauty may emerge.

But even in such a world as this, introvert is still a dirty word, because the deep is rarely pretty. Cover me, then, that I may have special honor.

...those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty...If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.


Tracy P. said...

I'll meet you at Borders. But of course, not the same section. I'll smile as I walk by. :-)

Benjamin said...

This made me laugh, because I usually do my book shopping on Amazon these days! I'm such a nerd.

What section could I find you in?

Tracy P. said...

The most profound...children's. :-)

Benjamin said...

I hear that. I still think about the Velveteen Rabbit almost every week.

stephanie said...

I enjoyed this post, because I would consider myself introverted too. The article you linked to sparked some debate between me and Mike. It was pretty interesting!

Benjamin said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed it. As the years have passed, I've felt increasingly like "introvert" is the same as saying "deviant". That's just not true.