Disclaimer: To write this, I am going with the most general assumption of what most people understand introverts and extroverts to be. I am well aware that there are misconceptions about how being outgoing isn’t necessarily correlated to extroverts alone, or how social anxiety and introversion might sound like they are associated, but don’t have to be. However, this is more of a casual commentary than a well-researched thesis on the culture of personality, so I won’t be going into detail on that. I will however, try to remain as true as possible to the accurate definitions of introverts and extroverts, and what they relate to overall.
I have observed a strange influx of personality-based articles lately, from educational Scientific reports to fun pop psychology quizzes, with a surprisingly appreciative and sympathetic focus on introverts. I can’t log onto Facebook, or glance at Buzzfeed, without scrolling past at least one article amusingly titled, “How to Treat Your Introvert”, or “What not to say to introverts”. I have seen a charmingly drawn comic on introverts getting circled around the web, accompanied by comments from a myriad of validated introverts all around the world sighing, “thank you, you get me”.
One of my favourite books, Quiet, by Susan Cain, is an enlightening, passionately written thesis on “the power of introverts”, and it has continued to top prominent best-selling lists in America, a country which predominantly holds extrovert ideals. Suddenly, it is “cool” and “hip” to be an introvert. In accordance to the recent trend on introverts, if you identify as one, chances are you’d be correlated to more positive connotations like, “intelligent, reflective, deep, stimulating conversationalists, less reckless,” etc. This is both refreshing and encouraging, in a world where we have been frequently associating extroversion with assertiveness, better leadership qualities, better career opportunities, more happiness, success, healthier interpersonal relationships, good social skills, and so on.
While I am glad that we introverts are getting our fair share of exposure in society, I don’t understand why it comes at the price of making extroverts look like, “the bad guys”. If you were extroverted and you enjoyed clubbing and loud music, you’re likely to be stereotyped as a shallow party-animal with no intellectual depth or reflective abilities. You’re seen as “annoying” because you happen to be the one doing most of the talking, and you don’t mind being the center of attention. You’re seen as “clingy” because you’re always initiating meet-ups, sending texts, making calls. Your need (or preference) for company can be misconstrued as insecurity. You’re supposedly the “self-absorbed, common-folk of society whose idea of conversation revolves around the latest gossip of the week”, while we introverts are the “mysterious, philosophical, unique individuals who seek greater meaning in life.”
Is there a kernel of truth in the assumptions above? Perhaps there is an association, to a degree. But as with anything involving human beings, it is difficult to apply sweeping brush strokes towards personality, because we are such an intricate mixture of traits, preferences, and characteristics, all of which can either trend towards a common theme, or be influenced in response to multiple factors of context and environment.
I have a classically extroverted sibling and a couple of extroverted acquaintances. It is interesting to observe how popular stereotypes of extroversion overlap with actual extroverts. What I find is that there is always a need to look deeper. You cannot label introverts from a manual you’ve read somewhere, the same way you cannot generalize that all extroverts are shallow party-animals. Sure, there may be facets that ring true. In general, I know most extroverts to be gregarious people lovers who enjoy social stimulation and hanging out. Subsequently, I know most introverts to be quieter, more reserved, and socially independent. However, as with anyone, regardless of introversion or extroversion, the more you peel back the layers on someone, the more you realize that you can no longer fit them into any particular box. And that, to me, is one of the most profound and beautiful realizations I can ever have on an individual. I am always open to the possibility of completely reinventing my assumptions and understanding of someone, each time I am given the opportunity to learn something new about them. It is always incredibly enlightening, and incredibly humbling.
Personally? I truly appreciate extroverts. For the record, I’ve never thought that you were shallow, annoying, clingy, or conventional. Some of the extroverts I know in real life have been both great listeners and engaging conversationalists, emanating warmth, depth, reflective abilities, and social independence. There really is no “black and white”. We are all a little bit of everything.
I end this article with a list of things I want to say to extroverts:
- I marvel at your energy, your enthusiasm and zest for life, and how you outwardly express it.
- Thank you for dragging me out of my comfort zone to check out that cool new place. I know now that there is that super awesome dimsum shop just around the corner, and another great food joint down the road.
- Thank you for being great at answering the question, “How was your day?”, and telling me everything in minute detail, from the colour of your friend’s outfit to the things that scare you at night. It tells me that you keep everything in precious, vivid memory, and it sure makes for one heck of an interesting story. You make life seem so bustling, full, and colourful, when I often struggle to recall detail, and say anything more than, “It was good”.
- In accordance to the point above, how are you guys so great at jumping from one topic to the next? That’s amazing. It’s a skill truly to be admired. And hang on, have we really been speaking for 3 hours already?
- How are you doing that thing where you’re striking up deep conversations with complete strangers? What sorcery is this?
- Thank you for linking me random articles on my Facebook feed, or checking up on me. I rarely initiate because I fear that I may be wasting your time if I have nothing substantial to say, but you’ve taught me that sometimes it is not necessarily in what is said, but simply in the act of reaching out.
- I know you feel like you’re putting in more effort than everyone else. And I know it feels like if you don’t make the move, nobody else will. I can’t promise that I’ll spontaneously start organizing parties, trips, or get-togethers, but thank you for thinking of me when you do, and not giving up on inviting me to come along. With that said, thank you for gathering a bunch of people together in one place, to have a good time.
- You can often play the part of the unwitting glue in the dynamics of the group, and thank you for giving everyone something to talk about, be it a silly joke or a deep, profound reflection on life.
- Thank you for your curiosity in me and in making me feel interesting, listened to, and important. We probably aren’t the easiest to crack first time round, but thank you for persisting and trying anyway.
- I know you get lonely too. And that it isn’t always natural or easy for you to initiate, but you do so anyway. Thank you for that. It’s extremely courageous of you.
- Thank you for being easy to talk to. I know that when I say something, you’ll give me something to bounce off on.
- Never mistake “poor social etiquette” for introversion. If I constantly flake on plans without telling you, don’t reply texts, or make no attempt to keep a conversation going, that’s not me being an introvert. You can attribute it to social awkwardness, social anxiety, rudeness, disinterest, forgetting, a busy schedule, etc… but it’s not exclusive to introverts alone.
- …And thank you for trying to understand the ways of the introvert, which might not always be easy, given the natural preferences of an extrovert. I understand that sometimes when you want to sit around and do nothing, you’d rather sit around and do nothing with company. And okay, I think I’m cool with that. Sometimes. 😛
So, extroverts, don’t feel the need to change yourself or to “coddle” introverts, the same way introverts shouldn’t feel the pressure to succumb to the ways of the extrovert. There really is no special way to talk to us. Come as you are, and we can figure out how we can bring out the best in each other over lunch. No, don’t call your five hundred other friends to come along. Maybe two? Yeah. Okay. We can do that.