Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Article of the Day: Why the World Needs Introverts

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 18, 2012

This article argues that society places excessive value on extroversion while assuming that expression of introverted traits is necessarily a bad thing. In response, it explains “why the world needs introverts.”

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”.

Of course, sometimes contemplation has value over action, heed-taking over risk-taking, and doubt over certainty (just ask Richard Feynman about that last one). But is it not always better to be comfortable rather than uncomfortable? I think even introverts would agree that being “uncomfortable in the spotlight” or “uncomfortable putting himself out there” is not such a good thing.

The greatest strength of this article is in its understanding that introversion is not worse than extroversion, nor should we assume—as people usually do—that everyone is an extrovert, or that introverts merely need to be “converted.” People can become more or less sociable, and of course behave differently in different circumstances, but most people cannot make such a dramatic shift as society often expects.

We often place unreasonable expectations on introverts:

[Y]ou might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Many people simply fail to understand that such behaviors are not weird or a sign that something is wrong. Not only is it perfectly normal to prefer a book to dinner with friends; in many cases, the former choice adds more value to one’s life. Where would we be if Einstein, instead of staying home to teach himself calculus, had gone partying every night?

Of course, one makes many choices throughout life, and some of these choices will always tend toward extroversion. But it is a mistake to think that they all should.


3 Responses to “Article of the Day: Why the World Needs Introverts”

  1. Matthew said

    To assume that people can be filed wholly into the categories of either extrovert or introvert assumes that people with one trait of one group will necessarily have other traits of the same group and not have traits of the other group, so there’s a problem with the article right there.

    Also this idea that extroversion and intellectuality are mutually exclusive is silly. If someone enjoys partying more then reading books, that doesn’t affect how capable they are of examining a situation and figuring something out about it.

    • Of course “introvert” and “extrovert” are not discrete categories, but they make for useful labels. We simply have to be careful about how we use them. Even if we do not call people extroverts or introverts, we can at least make reference to their extroverted or introverted tendencies.

      Extroversion and intellectuality are not mutually exclusive, but activities that are both extroverted and intellectual are generally pretty rare. For example, book groups often involve intellectual discussion among peers, but such discussions require that each person spend time individually reading and thinking about the book.

      If someone enjoys partying more then reading books, that doesn’t affect how capable they are of examining a situation and figuring something out about it.

      If you encounter an interesting situation at a party and spend time thinking about it, the time you spend thinking thinking—the most intellectually valuable time—occurs alone, or at least inside your head.

      That said, I agree that extroversion and intellectuality often work together. Many types of thinking happen best in groups.

  2. phynnboi said

    “We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.”

    Whose value system is that, though? Certainly not the introvert’s!

    As I understand it, predicting the thoughts and actions of others–something both extroverts and introverts must do–is largely accomplished through what psychologists call “projection”–that is, basically “projecting” our models of the world into other people’s heads. Thus, we have a tendency, in the absence of deeper thought and consideration, to resolve mismatches between what we predict (based essentially on what we, ourselves, would do) and what actually happens, by assuming that the other person is “faking” their actions, or is otherwise prevented from acting the way we predict they should act.

    I see this a lot in heated arguments, where each side seems to think the other side “really knows the truth” and is just “being contrary” to “win the argument.” They can’t fathom how someone could hold such an opposing viewpoint because they cannot fathom holding it themselves.

    Anyway, the point is, what seems to be going on here is extroverts projecting their extroversion onto everyone else, and when their predictions backfire, they assume that it is the person predicted, rather than their prediction, that is at fault. The person predicted must be changed to fit the prediction, instead of the other way around.

    I don’t know the answer, sadly. I’m unconvinced that all the explaining in the world will get an extrovert to “understand” an introvert. Plus, there are other issues, like self-validation. Some extroverts no doubt consider the existence of introverts as some kind of indictment against extroversion. Because not everyone is like them, that must mean there’s something “wrong” with them. If they can just make everyone else like themselves, they’ll be validated.

    (I’m aware of the labeling issue. It may help to look at things relatively. Alice may be an extrovert compared to Bob, but an introvert compared to Charlie. Even “alphaness” is relative to the present population: The most alpha male in the world still does not get every female in the world.)

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