Published in North Central Chronicle on January 18, 2008.
In a world where talk is cheap and time is money, life for an introvert can often become disorienting and exhausting.
In a society dominated by extroverts, who gear more towards conversation and activity, introverts become marginalized for our perceived lack of social skills. The truth is that introverts hardly lack social skills. We simply get our energy from being alone rather than from being with other people. That trait is too often confused with shyness, but in fact we may just want to be left alone.
Extroverts have a difficult time discovering this distinction. Because of their shorter conversational attention spans and inability to be alone for extended periods of time, they do not, or simply cannot, understand their introverted friends. They ask an introvert to dinner and do not understand why they would rather stay home alone and read than socialize. Or perhaps they balk at an introvert’s request to leave a party after only a short time, not knowing that the introvert cannot take much more mindless chatter.
We introverts fight battles constantly. We fight with leagues of extroverts for airtime to voice our carefully-crafted thoughts. We fight for time alone everyday to recharge and recollect. We fight the stereotypes branded on us, wishing for nothing more than understanding. We also feel like picking a fight when we’re asked, “Are you all right?” for the hundredth time, when all we want to do is remain deep in thought.
Often our reluctance to socialize leads extroverts to believe that we introverts are arrogant, detached, or self-absorbed. This misconception is probably due to an introvert’s disdain for small talk. Our days are filled with thinking—we like to figure out exactly what we’ll say before saying it—so the concept of small talk seems obligatory and a waste of time. But even more than small talk, introverts hate repeating themselves. Calvin Coolidge once said, “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.” I wonder if Coolidge would have even survived in today’s political atmosphere.
But we introverts must trudge on. In the article “Caring for Your Introvert” by Jonathan Rauch, the author writes, “Many actors, I’ve read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors.” We learn to put on a happy, sociable face when it’s called for, if only to keep the inquisitive extroverts off our backs. Indeed, before I enter a social circus, I have to mentally ready myself for an unknown amount of hyper-interaction. I tell myself, “This is a party. You can have fun and talk with people.” I try not to be a recluse, but sometimes my social battery runs out and irritation quickly sets in.
Perhaps one day, extroverts will understand the hell they put us introverts through. Perhaps one day, breaks in conversation will not seem awkward, and small talk will not be required to maintain proper etiquette. Perhaps one day, extroverts will discover the joy of seclusion, and the value of stillness. Perhaps. Until that day, you extroverts should be more mindful of your quieter, less convivial peers. Do not ask them why they’re so quiet, or why they want to be left alone, because the reason is probably you.