Or, a soapbox
Well, not exactly; ‘soapbox’ suggests an energy that I don’t have at the moment. But I’ll do my best. *clears throat*
Hear ye, hear ye, people of the internet. I would like to join the chorus of voices imploring us to collectively adjust our assessment of the differences between introversion and extroversion. Voices like this one, which articulate the issue better than I ever could. Said assessment shows up in the world largely as a gross oversimplification of the ways in which both introversion and extroversion show up in the world.
I’m not saying it isn’t simple; ironically, it is a pretty basic concept, just in terms of its cause rather than its effect. That is to say, what makes someone an introvert or extrovert is the source of their energy, not how they manifest that energy.
We’ve been conditioned to equate introversion with shyness. These traits can go hand in hand, but they aren’t direct synonyms; nor are extroversion and gregariousness. If you’re an extrovert, you draw your energy from being around people, and thus can go for long spans of time without being alone; the presence of others is what pumps you up and keeps you going. If you’re an introvert, there are no barriers per se on your ability to (and enjoyment of) social interaction, except that you’ll ultimately need to recharge your battery with some alone time. Being an introvert does not mean you struggle to connect with others necessarily, and being an extrovert does not mean you are the life of the party and center of attention necessarily.
Human beings, we’ve often heard, are social animals. We cull important aspects of identity and belonging from our communities and relationships. We also have individual tendencies, and no two connections (interpersonal or intra-personal) look the same.
The dominant culture at this juncture in human history complicates things by naturally glamorizing the umbrella disposition which it calls extroversion: an outgoing nature, a loud voice, an attention-grabbing conversational presence. These are all equated with self-confidence, and presumed to be the only indicators of self-confidence. People in whom these qualities are more latent are encouraged to learn to adopt the signals of ‘extroversion’ and promised a more fulfilling, exciting life as a result. Think of every movie with a makeover: it’s not just a question of physical change, but the change in attitude that accompanies it, and that change more or less goes one way.
To be clear, I’m not against makeovers, even in movies. I love a good trying-on-clothes montage. It’s the convincing what we think is an introvert to reject those attributes in favor of those more consistent with what we think is an extrovert that rubs me the wrong way.
Along those lines, at the risk of coming across as some sort of denier, I don’t believe in the recently-proliferated category of ‘ambivert.’ No one, as far as I know, is truly equal parts introverted and extroverted: we all ultimately draw our energy from within or without. One of these is dominant. It might change over time, and we might identify as one or the other at different points in our growth and development, but one side will always take the foreground.
I’ve certainly become more extroverted as I’ve grown up, and still, at bottom, I remain an introvert. I enjoy a rich inner life and take a lot of comfort in spending time with myself; and yet I too have a limit on how long I can entertain myself. The past week or so, suffering through and coming out of a flu, reminded me of the poet Donald Hall’s distinction between solitude and loneliness. The scales tipped too far toward the latter, and the extroverted part of me is now hungry to right those scales.
A lot of writers, I think, are introverts, which perhaps predisposes us to self-expression through the form. It certainly isn’t a requisite personality trait. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. So, please, let’s stop wholesale praising extroversion and maligning introversion, because those ideas don’t mean what we’ve societally convinced ourselves they mean.
Register for a session of the 2022 Creative Writing Masterclass Series! (Bringing people together to talk about art appeases my extroverted side.)