I found Susan Cain’s video presentation on the power of introverts informative and inspiring. Being an introvert myself, I can relate to the pressures of how Western Society favors, “a man of action over a man of contemplation”.
Often, introverts are misunderstood. They are labeled as “shy”, or somehow inherently flawed by their peers. Cain clarifies the difference between being shy and being an introvert: shyness is fear of social judgment, whereas an introvert is defined as a person who’s energy expands through reflection and dwindles through social interaction. So, an introvert might enjoy socialization and interaction with others, but will most likely need time alone after a social event to recharge and be with their own thoughts. Extraverts, on the other hand become more charged and find energy and inspiration when socializing and being interactive with others, and may become listless and depressed if they spend too much time alone.
I was surprised when Susan Cain said that 1/3 of all people falls somewhere on the scale of being introverted. As an introvert, I often feel outnumbered. I think part of this is that many introverts behave like Susan Cain at summer camp as a child: she could participate in all of the social events and action, go through the motions, find some of it enjoyable – but in the end really just couldn’t wait to get back to her books, and be alone. I think there are a lot of introverts walking around, trying to participate in the extrovert world because that is what the Western world has set up as a “more desirable” personality type.
I think we need to find a cultural balance and accommodations for introverts. Like Cain says, “solitude is crucial to creativity”. But so often the modern work place is set up to be friendlier for an extrovert’s style – school and work places praise group and team work over working individually.
As a preschool teacher, I have noticed that other teachers view some of the more introverted students as different in a negative way. The quiet, contemplative 4 year old that would rather look at books in the corner than join in a loud game of tag is viewed as antisocial or socially awkward by some teachers that value traits of extraversion over introversion. Children like that are then encouraged by some teachers to, “join in the fun”, when all they really want to do is spend some time alone to recharge. Teacher’s with this point of view is an example of how deep seated our favoritism for extraverts is. Because although this teacher thought she was just trying to help by urging the child to “join in the fun”, it really wasn’t valuing his need for alone time or independence from group activities.
Susan Cain’s video is a reminder for all of us that there is equal value to each personality type, and that the 20th century Western view on the values of introversion and extraversion could stand to be reinvented and better understood.