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.