The quiet achiever
I always think how you choose to spend New Year’s Eve says a lot about your personality. Do you prefer to stay at home with your nearest and dearest (or almost as compelling, a good book!), the fireworks on TV and a token glass of bubbly to toast in the New Year, assuming you can even be bothered to stay up until midnight; or would you rather venture out of your house to join the heaving throngs and PARRRTTTTEEEEEEEEE?
Depending on your answer, you fall into either the introvert or extrovert camp. Note that introversion is not the same thing as shyness, which describes fear of social judgement.
This question, not so much whether you’re more one or the other, but why it is that introverts, who make up one third to one half of the population, so often get a bum rap in our culture, is the subject of this presentation delivered by author Susan Cain. Her main aim is to empower those of us who feel more comfy doing the solo thing than running with the pack.
Cain distinguishes between the two personality types this way: “Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation whereas introverts feel at their most alive, most switched on and most capable when they’re in quieter, more low key environments.”
This difference would be neither here nor there if both groups were judged by society as having equal value. Yet according to Cain, many of our most important institutions, schools and workplaces favour extroverts and their need for stimulation.
As proof, she observes that school kids today work far more on group assignments than they did previously, including in subjects like maths and creative writing, traditionally solitary pursuits. Also, that many workplaces are open plan, subjecting employees to the constant noise and gaze of their co-workers.
Cain says the reason for this bias is the belief that “all creativity, all productivity comes from an oddly gregarious place.” Even more alarmingly, research shows that prejudice against introverts tends to translate into more professional success for their counterparts.
Why is this? Cain blames our culture of personality, which she attributes to major social change. Once upon a time, we lived predominantly on farms and worked alongside people we’d known our whole life. These days the majority of us live in cities and work alongside strangers. The upshot, says Cain, is that “qualities like magnetism and charisma, suddenly seem very important.”
Yet who are often the most creative and productive people? You guessed it – the introverts, those who seek out solitude in order to experience what are often profound and paradigm-shifting epiphanies and revelations. Consider humankind’s greatest exemplars of insight and wisdom, the mystics and sages in all the world’s religions. They didn’t discover what it is to be human carousing in a bar.
Cain proposes that as a culture, we need to give introverts far more freedom to be themselves. To this end, she makes the following recommendations:
1) Stop the madness for constant group work.
2) Make it easier for those with yogic leanings to disappear into the wilderness for a while if that’s what they crave, to be with their own mind minus all the usual worldly distractions.
3) Celebrate difference, yours and everybody else’s.