So argues Susan Cain, in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’.
It’s a state of affairs that she claims, begins at school, where kids are rewarded for being ‘outgoing’ instead of ‘original’. Later, at the office or in social occasions, those who say little tend to get sidelined and overlooked. Introverts, she continues, are prone to depression, anxiety and shyness. Yet they can also be empathetic, modest and complex thinkers.
So where do you fit – introvert, extrovert: or ambivert (a bit of both)?
When I’m stressed (a fairly standard state of affairs), I like TOTAL SILENCE. SPACE. Boundaries. Closed doors. Paper and pen over people. Books. Cain describes these beautifully as ‘private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communication with writers and musicians I’ll never meet in person’.
Introverts she continues, have brains that are over-sensitive to stimulation. Extroverts thrive on it. This may explain why Glen (aka ‘Mr Noisebag) is permanently singing, dancing, preaching, tapping and plugged in to twenty kinds of media…whilst if an ant deigns to cross the threshold of my bedroom floor, I’m hyperventilating like the princess and the pea. You’ll find both of us at parties – but whilst he holds court in the crowds, I’ll be rocking gently in the toilet or nestling quietly under the coats. At the very least, like a silent assassin I’ll siphon off individuals, rather than face being engulfed by tsnamis of people.
I’m guessing this qualifies me as an out and out introvert. But I wonder if it’s quite that simple.
Whilst being with being people can be tiring, it energises me as well. I love spending time with others and sharing their lives and stories. I’m not shy and will happily take an upfront role if its needed. In the same way, even Glen needs restorative niches – blocks of space in which to recharge and refocus. At different stages or times, we are both introvert and extrovert: and I reckon this is true for most people. Perhaps some of these skills are learned rather than intuitive, but it’s a healthy balance that springs from being pushed beyond our comfort zones. Had I thought of myself as an introvert from an early age, I wonder if I’d have worked so hard to challenge my natural impulses. I might have been excused from stressful social situations – but I’d have missed out on relationships and experiences that have blessed me more than they’ve scared me. Plus, are we the best ones to judge? So often others describe us very differently to the way in which we see ourselves and who’s to say we’re right?
Whilst we may lean towards introversion or extroversion, humanity can’t be neatly subdivided into one of two boxes. Even if we do tend in one direction, as Christians we are offered freedom from old patterns and genuine change. This is not to say that Jesus zaps us, Stepford-style into automatons. But when He looks at me, I’m hoping He sees a little more than just ‘introvert’.