I recently read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and found it very interesting.
I’ve been noticing for years that introverts are a misunderstood and under-appreciated group of people. Cain points out that we live in what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal”. Our culture values extroversion. We love and admire people who are outgoing, outwardly friendly, and sociable. We value the extrovert so much that we’ve changed the way we educate our children and work at our jobs (more open-space work spaces and group activities). Of course this hasn’t always been the case, nor does the Extrovert Ideal apply to all cultures.
Most people (especially extroverts) don’t even realize that there is this cultural preference for extroversion.
Cain gave an example of a well meaning elementary school teacher who had her class work in groups. One of the boys sat quietly and didn’t really get involved with the group. She felt he needed the opportunity to be a leader, so she made him a safety officer. She didn’t ask if he wanted to be a leader and safety officer; she just assumed he would want that.
Now, I think of it this way. How many teachers would do the opposite? Would you see a teacher take the leader of that group (assuming he was not a troublemaker) and make him go sit quietly by himself to, say…reflect? Would a teacher decide that this kid was too much of a leader, too outgoing, and make him be more quiet?
Parents often tell their introverted or shy children to be more outgoing—to be friendlier to strangers and to make direct eye contact while talking.
How many parents tell their extroverted children to be less outgoing—to take time out to listen to others rather than talk, or to sit quietly and think?
“You’re too quiet. You’re too shy” are very common statements in our culture. We don’t often hear the flipside of it, “You’re too talkative. You’re too outgoing,” do we? It happens, but being overly talkative isn’t nearly as much of a stigma as being shy.
Our culture also seems to mistrust introverts. I mean, how often have we all heard, “He’s (quiet, shy, reserved, etc.), BUT he’s nice.” As if being quiet means that a person’s default is…not nice. I guess I can understand it to some degree. After all, it’s hard to get to know someone who is quiet or shy.
But we also tend to trust extroverts too much. Just because someone is outgoing, outwardly friendly, and talks a lot, doesn’t make him or her a decent person. It would be extremely unusual, though, to hear “He’s outgoing, BUT he’s nice.” I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that.
Our society tends to think of introversion and quietness as abnormal. The prevailing attitude is there is something wrong with introverts. Introverts are told that they need to work on being more outgoing in this society—it rarely works the other way around with society telling extroverts to work on being more reflective or quiet. Those of us who are quiet absorb this message loud and clear—there is something wrong with us.
We all need to remember and be respectful of the introverts in our lives and our world. Yes, we need the brash, go-getter extroverts, but we also need the quiet, reflective introverts. Introverts are the yin to the extrovert yang. We would all do well to remember this, instead of increasingly pushing our society into the Extrovert Ideal.
What do you think? Are you an introvert? If so, do you feel society’s preference for extroverts?