Where have all the great introverts gone, America?
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 11:09
Do you ever eavesdrop on conversations while walking to class? The other day, en route to Bailey/Howe, I overheard an intriguing exchange. It went something like this:
Girl 1: Yeah, he’s a nice person, but he’s super quiet.
Girl 2: I know. What an introvert.
Although this conversation was not the typical tale of last night’s debauchery, what was interesting was how the tone for the word “introvert” was distinctly negative.
Indeed, the unfavorable association with introverts, or people who are more reserved and who recharge by being alone, is hardly unique to this particular conversation.
We live in a country that exults extroverts. From politicians to CEOs to professors who demand class participation, the cultural message is that one should be comfortable in the spotlight and should seek attention from others.
The extremely talkative persona that is worshipped in both the American media and everyday life is, in my opinion, seriously misguided. Introverts tend to listen, observe, reflect and think before they speak or act. Why are these qualities underappreciated?
The erroneous concept of viewing extroverts as being more desirable and competent is especially clear in the business world. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” writes, “There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.”
The image of the life of the party, action-oriented personality is viewed as attractive in American culture – overly so. Even more, living in such a present-minded society, we often forget that less talking and more doing is not necessarily a negative thing.
Introverts characteristically take time to weigh the pros and cons, think things through and make decisions in a more time-consuming manner. For leaders today – especially in politics – there is pressure to make quick, bold decisions accompanied by appearances on TV.
This cultural value of extroversion has affected not only professions in politics and business, but also the way that schools are run, workplaces are designed and how we interact with each other. But is this right?
Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” explains, “Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity come from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course.”
She goes on to say, “From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude, and in my book I examine lots of research on the pitfalls of group work.”
Being quiet and preferring to work alone are qualities that are gifts, not faults. Not everyone is comfortable in highly stimulating environments with large groups of people, and there is nothing wrong with that.
As a whole, I believe that there needs to be greater awareness in the classroom, workplace and social scene for the appreciation of introverts. Introverts are not less worthy than extroverts. Both have different skills and abilities and should be equally respected.