I really have been thinking for quite a long time whether I should or not write the post I am going to upload today. I usually write about topics related to languages and linguistics, culture and society, about my mother tongue Catalan, or I simply give my imagination free rein and write short stories. And if there is one category where this post goes, it is certainly society, since every now and then I comment on new trends or social issues that are doing my head in.
And today I have to touch upon a subject that affects me, and probably lots of people like me, and is making a lot of workers feel underestimated and discriminated against. The same way I have written about the unfair treatment women still receive, or the problems that arise from poverty, this Thursday I want to deal with the modern trend of over-rating “extroverts” and looking at “introverts” with disdain.
I am appalled, I must say, to have to witness every day that the entire working world has evolved to value only the most outgoing ones whereas the more introspective types are seen as boring, uncreative and less desirable in enterprises than the loud party-goers always ready to be amongst people.
Our school system now favours a sort of education where there is constant interaction between peers and rarely allows any space for those students who need to do their thinking individually. And being a teacher myself I have realised that, generally speaking, the educational community forces learners to continuously interact with other students and tends to qualify the quieter types as “less social” and less brilliant, although the peaceful types are more accurate when they perform most tasks.
I got very concerned about this topic when I realised it has become now nearly compulsory to be “socially” active in every sense. Not only are we supposed to socialize all the time, but we are expected to show it off. If you, as me, prefer a quiet beer with your closest friend in a more or less hidden bar rather than a cocktail party with lots of people around, you will be considered an outcast. And this attitude is forcing us introverts to fake a life and a character that is not in our nature and that will ultimately make us feel really unease, to say the least.
Sociability, whether real of fake, is a must in our working environment. One of my colleagues confessed to me that in her previous job, if people turned down the invitation to the Christmas dinner party, the head of the department they were in asked them to have a quiet word with them. Once in the private office, he enquired why they were not coming to the party. Something that I consider off the limits since these activities are scheduled outside our working day. Do we have to justify ourselves for our urge to have some peace and quiet? The answer seems to be: Yes we do.
It is terrible that we live in a society in which we all have a virtual persona that we try to sell and that has very often little or nothing to do with our real “self”. And that the world has become a “big brother” with everyone around us observing our movements should be food for thought.
I am constantly reminded that I should be more outgoing and attend more parties to meet new people and talk even more than I do as a teacher every day.
And maybe a year ago, when an acquaintance advised me to “give up some of my hobbies to spend more time with people”, I really started to feel quite annoyed at this intimidating trend against introverts. So I began my search for information to see if I am the only person suffering from the “extrovert fobia”. It didn’t take me long to find a TED talk by Susan Cain that made me feel relieved. She claims there is absolutely nothing wrong with introverts and that, quite honestly, the world “needs them” as she puts it. Our quite natures let other people’s ideas flourished easily, whereas outgoing people tend to want to speak more than listen and get their point across. Thanks Susan for writing “the quiet revolution” and defending our right to exist.
I found it really very well observed that the demand for a more outgoing type of person appeared when people left the countryside to go and live in the city, where they had to become remarkable to survive in a the world of masses.
And following her stream of thought I have to add that our society definitely demands from us so much sociability that we might sometimes even lose the capability to be alone and think by ourselves. Besides, we are connected to the outer world rather than our inner world by means of all our electronic devices: smart phones, tablets, computers, smart watches etc. Our introvert nature is forced to fade away.
Being introvert does not mean fear of social contact. It refers, and that is the point Susan Cain emphasises, to how we receive our stimulus and how we can work and develop better. Extroverts might want to be involved in big get togethers, while we prefer quiet activities with maybe fewer people around.
Today’s workplaces and classrooms don’t allow for much quietness or individual work for those like me who need their space to think and work better. And that is a problem. We might be forcing people to be extrovert against their nature and we are putting them under pressure to make an effort and be “different”. This continuous effort surely makes them waste energy they could invest in being creative.
The best ideas for me have never aroused when I was with people I have to say. I feel the urge to be on my own so that my brain can come up with something new. Mind you, it might not be the relativity theory I admit, but it could be an quick mental draft for a short story, an idea about how to rearrange my place to make it more orderly and practical or a way to make my students practice English, etc.
And it is also true that some introverts are loners. But not all. And perhaps it is rather an impression people have from us because we tend to be more selective than other people and prefer interaction in small groups. The fact that we do feel more of the urge to be in quiet places makes us avoid crowds and we are more likely to want to have a nice bike ride with a friend at dusk than to go out with a bigger number of people.
But all theses aspects are pretty in contradiction to what is “fashionable” today and what we are all supposed to like and enjoy. And there is the point when society exaggerates the need to turn introverts into extroverts for the sake of better world. And it is on top of that convinced it is doing us a favour.
I suppose Susan Cain might agree with me if I say that the ideal society should create spaces that are suitable for introverts to develop the best way they can. This involves that schools should not always make students sit in circles to communicate but could also allot enough time for activities where students are fulfilling tasks individually.
And I am going further than that and want to stand up for the right we introverts have to stay home and read a good book instead of having to struggle continuously to be more “outgoing” and socialise more. I think introverts wish for a greater amount of time on their own to regain balance and come up with ideas.
As a woman I often have to argue with men that wish to keep me company when I don’t want it. They seem to think that I must be extremely sad because I am alone and try to rescue me from loneliness. And to be quite honest, I have had to go very often from a polite tone to a dry one to make them understand that I need to do my bike ride on my own after work , or that I prefer to be on the beach reading a book or listening to music by myself than to get engaged in small talk.
We certainly have to change the image we have of introverts. There is nothing wrong with us, we have simply different needs and want to be respected. And at the end of the day, as the German saying claims “stille Wasser sind tief”, introverts can surprise you because we are not dull but very analytical so we tend to concentrate on very important things. For these reasons, next time you realise someone around you is a quiet, introvert person, think before trying to make this person mutate into one of the types that are so trendy nowadays…