Introvert. It’s a word that never really brought much to mind for me, something I never really reflected on all that much. In the past year or two, however, it seems to have been appearing more and more, wherever I look. We all know people are fixated on classifying things and other people, trying to put tags on them as if it would somehow help to figure out how to deal with them. Maybe we’ve come into an age where the prodding and poking has become more intense? The funny thing is how introversion has somehow become the new cool. This is the first time ever that people openly and proudly call themselves introverts. I guess this oddly coinciding with hipster fashion, liberal tattoo baring and all other formerly shunned things being popular is some strange mark of a change in society.
I was that kid in school. The one teachers kept trying to pry out of my ‘shell’. The one other parents would look at and say “Shame, the child is so quiet. Really hope for her sake she gets over this phase.” They’d shake their heads or give me this odd look, as if there was something not quite right with me, but they were too cautious to say it to my face. Yet I completely forgot about all of this until a few days ago, when I read several articles and books on the topic. Back then I was far too caught up in my own imagination and mind to really pay attention to what people did or said. It was only now that it occurred to me that back then, I had moments when I felt a bit alienated, a bit awkward and out of place. It was in those moments where eyes were turned upon me and I overheard adults talking among each other that I felt like there was something wrong with me, that there was something broken that I had to fix or my life wasn’t going to turn out very well. Shy. I was a shy kid.
A short while ago, a very dear friend of mine mentioned a book he was reading. Quiet, by Susan Cain. An introvert herself, she’d mastered the art of being highly successful in a competitive corporate environment, in spite of her natural comfort zone being away from people and not talking much. I started reading the book and soon discovered that this whole separation of people into two classes all started just over a hundred years ago. Before then, there was no classification for social behavior. You were just as much human as the next person, you were just either a talkative person or someone who didn’t say much. I was outraged to discover that the rise of the sales and marketing era was the cause of all this sharp disapproval of quieter people. Sales people had to be over the top and boisterous to be successful, which meant quieter people fell short by a long shot. Over the years this classification intensified and with the introduction of psychology, introversion was soon deemed an actual disability, a disorder, according to psychologists. It suddenly became something that was wrong in people, it was something that needed fixing and treatment. Favour was given to the outgoing, louder, more talkative types who used verbal and physical communication as their primary form of interaction and understanding others. While not on the scale of racism or sexism, there was a very strong underlying tone in society that agreed that quieter people were just not on the right side of the fence.
I had times while growing up, where people tried to make me more talkative, more outgoing. Heck, I tried really hard to be that way myself, for the sake of fitting in when I was a teen. But I found myself miserable, trying to pretend to be anything other than what I was. I remember being about 17, and participating in some stage show in my local town. After the show I walked off stage and met two friends of mine, who were somewhat older than me. They’d been trying for over a year to get me to interact more, talk more. Their reaction when they saw me? “We can’t believe that was you on stage! You’re always so quiet. It’s like you just came alive and got confidence for the first time up there!” I frowned. I had no lack of confidence, per se. Why would they assume that my silence meant I was a vulnerable, injured creature cowering in a corner? Much as I knew they meant well, it made me very aware of how often people misunderstand the world of an introvert.
Over the years I had to learn to become more comfortable around people, talk more, shift my own behavior to a degree in order for me to get along better with others and be understood better. I had to often remind myself that what I don’t say, they’ll never know, and even when I do say things and explain them, they might be completely overlooked because I don’t raise my voice when I say them. My words are soft spoken because my thoughts are so loud. My teachers called me diligent and hard working, later on when I got a job my manager described me as ‘stoic’ and ‘very controlled’. It’s a strange thing, being compared to a human statue when inside, there’s a wonderland of colourful thoughts and ideas constantly flying around. The truth about introverts is they say so little because they think so much. When your mind is so busy, having to open your mouth at the same time and express just one of the at least dozen thoughts going through your head, it often ends up feeling easier to just keep quiet altogether.
Introverts tend to be called ‘boring’ as well. Boring because we don’t make constant conversation. Boring because we don’t go out drinking and partying as hard as other people. Boring because you won’t often find us standing around the water cooler at work, joining in the latest gossip. Sure, we’ll socialize, we’ll have a few drinks and laugh with everyone, but after a little while we get pretty bored with the whole thing and the only thing we can think about is how incredible it would be to just be back at home, curled up on the couch with a book.
Continue on to Part 2, here