Let me just start out by stating that I am a self-proclaimed introvert (ISTP if you are the Myers-Briggs type), so I am by no means bashing introverts in this article.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I want to say that seeing the multitude of "X Things Only Introverts Understand" headlines on my Facebook news feed is, in my opinion, annoying at best and destructive at worst.
Well, when this stuff first started to become prevalent a few years ago, I was pretty psyched. It seems like the catalyst for all this "pro-introvert PR" was the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I read this book shortly after it was released and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought that it was excellently written and really pointed out some of the flaws in Western culture when it comes to perception of introverts.
But sometimes things can go too far.
While I really liked Quiet and think it is a must-read for anyone (introvert or extrovert), I was a bit worried when reading some of it. First of all, the title makes it sound like a self-help book for introverts. While it is in some ways, it is more or less a collection and analysis of psychological studies that both explain qualities of introverts and tells ways in which they are undervalued. It is also a critique on Western culture and how it needs to be more accepting of introverted qualities. Secondly, some of the language in the book seems to reinforce some negative introvert traits, such as meekness and, well, quietness.
While it makes a convincing argument that qualities of introverts generally perceived as negative can in fact be positive, I couldn't help but think that it in some ways it paints a more-or-less stereotypical picture of introverts and extroverts alike.
For introverts, some qualities that are usually mentioned are: quiet, thoughtful, like to read, don't like loud environments, prefer a few close friends instead of many friends, don't like to take risks, etc. For extroverts, all the opposites are usually mentioned: talk loudly, like to go to parties, have lots of friends, risk-taking, etc.
All these qualities, like many stereotypes, are based on truth. I'm sure many introverts and extroverts can look at their respective lists and pick out some qualities that they have, but the point is that they probably won't have all the qualities. For me, I'm pretty quiet (most of the time), I don't really like to read, I enjoy certain loud environments (like rock concerts for bands that I like), I definitely lean more to the "few close friends" end of the spectrum, and I occasionally do pretty risky things (I drive fast, fly planes, eat foods from restaurants with questionable health ratings, etc). So, I guess I "check out" as a textbook introvert for about half of the aforementioned qualities.
The problem is that people are complex, sure we can put ourselves into categories like "introvert, extrovert" or "nerd, geek, jock" but no one will ever perfectly embody all of the qualities. The problem is that we, ourselves, know that we are not textbook cases of personality types, but because of our inner biases we tend to forget that other people are complex as well.
This creates a bit of a dilemma. To me, the whole point of "pro-introvert" literature is to try to a) make introverts more confident in themselves and embrace their personal strengths, and b) educate extroverts about how to better deal with introverts so that we can all reach our full potential. Now, I agree with this concept, and I think that if it is executed properly everyone has a lot to gain. The problem, to me, is that it only further increases the separation of the two personalities.
See, in the "olden days", it was generally accepted in Western Culture that extroversion was better than introversion. While any introvert will object to this, it did give a sort of unity. What I mean by this is that there were no "camps, teams, alliances, etc." Everyone knew what was "right" and what was "wrong". When we start dividing ourselves into groups, there is a tendency to think that your group is "right" and therefore the other group is, by definition, "wrong." A famous experiment was done by Jane Elliott in the 1960s in which young schoolchildren were told that people with blue eyes are better than people with brown eyes, and then vice versa. The results were pretty clear: if you think you are in the "right" group, you disrespect people in the other group(s). This is why things like racism, sexism, nationalism, and ageism exist.
We can see that in the old way of thinking about personalities, introverts probably under-performed due to prejudice. It probably wasn't as bad as if you were in a racial minority group, but it was still something. So, disrespecting people due to their personality, or race, or age, or sex is definitely bad and something that should be stopped for everyone's benefit. We need to make sure, however, that in our best efforts to reduce these prejudices that we do not simply reverse them.
For example, I think Quiet did a good job of building introverts up without taking extroverts down, to a degree. There were definitely some parts where some gentle jabs were taken at extroverts, but Cain usually always finished things up with something about how extroverts have their own strengths and weaknesses and are necessary for a society. This is always important to remember. I went to a college where general societal rules were probably a bit flipped and introverts were in a large majority, and there were definitely times where it got kinda old that everyone was in their own little world. As introverts, I think it is good for us to voice our concerns and educate others on our strengths and weaknesses, but don't do it in a malicious way that undermines extroverts. I also think this is a good rule to follow for other social movements, such as feminism, civil rights, etc. Don't let your social movement turn into a war.
My other beef with pro-introvert things is that they can sometimes be self-destructive. Sure, an introvert reading the article will pump their fist and go "so true," but an extrovert reading it might be like "introverts, what a bunch of losers." In some ways, complaining about things usually just makes you sound whiny, even if your complaints are valid. If you write an article about introversion, try not to make it sound like you are complaining that introverts have it so hard. It will just reinforce the stereotype that introverts are fragile and weak and can't deal with things as well as extroverts, so you will be doing more harm than good.
In the end, it will be pretty hard to reach a point where there will just be a purely mutual respect between introverts and extroverts. Until then, let's try to keep things civil and not have too much of a chip on our shoulder. Introverts have strengths and weaknesses, extroverts have strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. Introverts can enjoy a good party just like extroverts can enjoy a good book. We are all complex people with different quirks, so let's try to remember that.
So whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, embrace who you are and use it to the best of your abilities!
Photo (c) Nguyen Hung Vu and shared under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Photo (c) Laura Loveday and shared under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License