Apologies for going way off topic with this one. I ordinarily use my blog for art and fabric based ramblings with a bit of life thrown in, but on this occasion, allow me to talk about something a little different.
I recently came across an article in the Guardian entitled “Why the world needs introverts“. Despite being fine with public speaking and always the first up at karaoke, I’ve always had a very introverted character, so of course I had a read. What I read hit me hard, and has had a profound effect on me over the last few days.
The article was written by a lady called Susan Cain, ex-lawyer turned writer from New York. She holds powerful views on the changes in society which have led us towards what she calls the ‘extrovert ideal’, where we are led to feel that to be anything other than confident, loud and quick to make decisions is wrong. She calls for introverts to be allowed to be themselves, and to use their unique characteristics to the advantage of us all, without being overshadowed by those who may speak a little louder.
Growing up, I have very powerful memories of being constantly asked by teachers, “are you ok?” and “Whatever is the matter?”. Another favourite was to be told that I looked miserable or that I never smiled. The crazy thing is, nothing was wrong, I was perfectly content, and this constant questioning led me to wonder if something really WAS wrong. Why did I not fit in? Why was it that my quiet ways were seen as so wrong and anti-social.
If ever we had to work in a group at school, my heart would sink as I knew that any ideas I came up with would fall on deaf ears, only to be floated and accepted later-on by someone more confident with a more forceful way. I never had lots of friends, just a couple of very close ones, and if ever they were off sick or on holiday, I would happily sit in the playground with my head in a book until they came back. In fact, one vivid memory is of one of the ‘cool kids’ trying to take my book away from me. Instinct kicked in and without even thinking about it, I slapped her square across the face. Wrong I know, but satisfying, and it saw to it that she and the other bullies never bothered me again – Until I got to secondary school that is.
After school and into adulthood I began to feel the pressure towards fitting in to the ‘extrovert ideal’ as Susan Cain talks about so eloquently in her article. I forced myself to go out to noisy bars when all I wanted was to curl up with a good book. I threw myself into public speaking when every fibre in my body was telling me it wasn’t for me. I accepted invitations for events which I know I wouldn’t enjoy as hard as I might try. I do all these things because introverts like me are made to feel that we are being rude, or boring if we choose to inhabit only those environments in which we feel comfortable. I love my friends intensely, but would rather see them for cosy dinners or chats over cups of coffee than in a busy bar with the pressure to drink and, god forbid, to mingle with strangers!
Susan Cain makes some interesting points about what makes us either introverted or extroverted, and a lot of it seems to boil down to how we respond to stimulation. Extroverts need constant stimulation, stuff happening, noise, busyness. Whereas us introverted types can be completely overwhelmed by these things. We like peace and quiet, one thing at a time, and find multi-tasking just doesn’t work.
So why are we being forced to feel that the way we inherently are is wrong? We are like square pegs being forced into round holes and I’m sure, on reflection of the introvert/extrovert argument, that this is why I’ve led a life plagued with periods of depression and eventual bipolar diagnosis. I spend my time trying hard to fit into an extrovert world, I make myself go to places I don’t want to go, do things I don’t want to do, and then wonder why I fail miserably and end up getting myself all upset. If people with a character like mine felt able to just be ourselves, then we would be much happier, and those around us would get the best of us.
So, introverts of the world, it’s time for us to stand up and be what we are. Sensitive, quiet, thoughtful and fond of solitude. I may not be a party animal or a raver, but I am a good person with a lot to give. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Susan Cain has a book coming out at the end of March called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. You can see her talking about her ideas here. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, It’s well worth a watch, especially if you have, or work with children. I don’t want other people to grow up with the same insecurities I did.