Notes from a Polite Introvert


“Conversation enriches the understanding; but solitude is the school of genius.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Savage Chickens got it right again.

Wherever I go, there are extraverts waiting for me. That’s not surprising, considering they make up roughly 70 percent of the American population. And there’s no doubting we live in an extravert culture. In every conceivable way, by every possible medium, our senses are bombarded. We can’t even go to the toilet anymore without being forced to look at ads, smell artifical scents, look at gaudy wallpaper.

So, if you happen to find yourself in the minority of 30 percent or so, as I do, what’s the best way, short of leading a Thoreau- or Dalai Lama-style existence of meditation and self-imposed isolation?

"Shut up, fool!"

Not only have I had to come to terms with my Asperger diagnosis, I’ve also had to contend with being an introvert all my life in a very loud, often overwhelming extravert culture. I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve collected to help “us” and “them” peacefully co-exist. And you thought I didn’t care, did you?

The Internet is a great meeting place for extraverts and introverts.

There’s a great New Yorker cartoon picturing a dog at a computer terminal, explaining to another dog: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” It doesn’t mean that you’re given carte blanche to lie about yourself, although many people do. What I take it to mean is that no one has to know that their chat mate in Indiana or Brazil or Australia really is a retiring introvert. It’s a great place to meet friends, talk about common interests, and share ideas. I’m proud to say I’ve met real friends on every continent but Antarctica through a single shared interest online. And hardly any of them no I’m shy and retiring in real life.

There has to be a line in the sand at social gatherings.

I can haz psych evaluation?

Parties and gatherings are a fact of life (and partially why I can’t get the “Ice Cream and Cake” dance out of my head.) We all, even the most shy of us, get invited to a barbeque, a church picnic, a friend’s wedding, an office Christmas party from time to time. And there’s only so many headaches and dead relatives we can have, in the end.

Extraverts take to social gatherings like the proverbial fish takes to water. Introverts, on the other hand, only think about when the party will be over, because there’s a great book at home just waiting to be read.

My solution: if extraverts can give the introverts a bit of space, we’ll pretend to have fun.

Introversion and extraversion are as important a difference to understand as any.

Our society has made leaps and bounds in understanding differences in gender, ethnic background, religious beliefs, and any of the other “protected” categories. Introverts, however, are not one of those protected groups, and they are a distinct minority. Does this mean it’s considered OK for extraverts to pick on introverts? Yes and no.

Extraverts band together. They need one another. On the other hand, it’s as likely you’ll see a group of cats together as a pack of introverts. And usually, the “odd person out” winds up being misunderstood, talked about, judged.

I’ll admit, I have some pre-conceived notions about extraverts. They talk too much, and too loudly, about things that don’t interest me in the least. But I can still be a good co-worker or fellow student with them…if not their friend. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying you are an introvert. “I don’t mean to offend you. I enjoy some private time/having the lights dimmed/quiet music instead of Top 40.” In the past I’ve done this, and it’s been surprisingly effective. The power of disclosure is an amazing thing.

Talking, and listening, is a two-way street.

Listen up, fool!

 

The pure extravert way is to talk, talk, talk. The pure introvert way is to listen, listen, listen. Trouble is, you won’t get anywhere without some of both.

Growing up with many extravert relatives, I was convinced they got their energy by talking. It just exhausted me, and I had to retreat to my room to re-charge. I know now that *is* how they get their energy, and they think out loud. Me? I may not be saying much, but I’m hearing, and taking in, every word.

Consider how, in foreign countries, many Americans may speak LOUDER, and slower, to someone whom they guess speaks no English. This is the communication style of many extraverts with introverts, though they’re only trying to be helpful.

I think of it as Yin and Yang…they each need to balance one another out.

Extraversion and introversion know no gender, race, or religion.

In American society, it’s generally expected that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” We applaud and admire extraverts on television, in books, in movies. The introverts may be the ones behind the scenes who wrote the screenplay, edited the text, worked as a gaffer or best boy. It takes everyone.

Men can be introverts, and women can be brash extraverts. Take the time to examine your own stereotypes. Do they really work as a one-size-fits-all approach? Probably not. (Look at Mr. T up there. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at him…he was the introverted side of The A-Team.)

Extraverts can be serious, and introverts like to have fun too.

Typical engineer!

Going back to the notion of stereotypes…not all extraverts are wild and crazy, love-everyone, party animals, just as not all introverts are celibate, Thoreau-reading, studious types who like calculus and philosophy. There’s lots of middle ground, and each of us has a stripe of “the other” in us.

I don’t profess to speak for all introverts. Since I am one of “the shy ones,” I hope my blog allows my readers a little bit of insight into my very private world. I think of it a lot like a coral reef…looking at the surface, one might think it was just water, but once you take a moment to dive down deeper…

Most of my friends, as it turns out, are extraverts. God has a strange sense of humor, and opposites attract.

Got comments? I’d love to hear them. Drop me a line at wikusandmurdock@yahoo.com!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on September 22, 2010.

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