Peter M Howard ::

wintermute.com.au

Undoing Introversion
or "Hi! I'm an introvert"

November2004

Put this together for a uni class, 'Culture, Writing & Textuality'. We were tasked to tell of a cultural encounter where one point-of-view was silenced. Although mine isn't about any specific event, it talks of the encounter between an introvert and the extrovert-dominant discourse in society. I put it together in a blog-like form, so there's a couple different writing-styles in there (although still clearly one voice). It's therefore part-diary, part-reflection...

Posted: Sept 7

Hi! I'm an introvert.
Didn't want to believe it before...

So why'd it take you so long to admit the truth?

I don't know. It's not like I'm socially inept or anything

So what, you think labelling your ineptitude somehow negates it?

But that's just it - I'm just introverted. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me... Does it?

I don't know, you tell me

I'm telling you, it doesn't mean anything

Posted: Sept 11

I thought I'd escaped such ignorance when I left school, but it happened again at uni today. "Class participation is worth 15 percent. If you don't talk, you get nothing". Okay, so that's not so bad, and it's not like I don't talk. School was worse (read stupider) though. Actual comments from school reports - stock responses really: "He doesn't participate enough in class" ..."should share with the class" ...But then other students are "disruptive". Mixed signals.

At my secondary school each student was assigned a 'tutor' - a mentor of sorts - one of the teachers who we'd meet with regularly to talk about how we're going. We'd talk about school, family, our spiritual journey. Some were more interested in certain topics than others; some topics were avoided altogether. I had one tutor for a year before requesting to be changed. He didn't understand me, didn't understand introversion. The topic came up regularly - either I wasn't participating in class, or I needed to learn how to talk to adults, or I needed to get off the internet and talk to real people. Somehow carrying on intelligent conversations with people of the other side of the globe counted for nothing - the internet was for people who didn't know how to talk to real people. I thought empty conversations were for empty people. Nope... Turns out people who can only have intelligent conversations haven't been properly socialised.

Posted: Sept 13

Say something

Why?

Just say something... Empty air not good

So?

What? Can't you carry on a normal conversation?

... (There's nothing normal about this conversation)

Posted: Sept 26

Read an interesting article today. I was checking out Neal Stephenson's website for info on his next book, and he had a link to an article: "describes my personality with uncanny accuracy. Extroverts ought to read this article". Checked it out and certainly, "uncanny". It's called Caring for your Introvert1. Rauch describes an introvert:

"someone who needs hours alone every day... Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk... Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice"

And he explains - if you "tell this person he is 'too serious', or ask if he is okay" or "Redouble your efforts to draw him out", "you are probably driving this person nuts".

A little spooked to discover Neal Stephenson is (also) an introvert - I often take for granted the fact that I'm 'different', and forget that there are millions of others just like me. Extroverts are just louder.

1. Rauch, J, 2003, 'Caring for your Introvert', The Atlantic Monthly, March 2003, Available Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2003/03/rauch.htm
Full text reprinted at: http://www.learningplaceonline.com/relationships/friends/caring-introvert.htm

Posted: Oct 04

As part of the tutorial system at school, my parents would meet with the tutor each term. They got the same treatment, and about my brothers as well. My whole family's like that - none of us "participate in class". It's seen as either arrogance or shyness - and both are vices at the school I attended. I'm the eldest, my oldest brother is only a year and a half younger than me - we could hardly be more different. Him and my dad are the least introverted (I wouldn't go so far as to call them extroverts). But mum tries explaining in these tutor meetings - it's just in our nature, it's not an emotional shortcoming or anything. Mum's an introvert though so she gets drowned out by the tutor - she tells me she hardly got a word in, the tutor would just talk for an hour (telling them things she already knew) - and at the end he'd still not know what's going on. Next meeting with him and the tutor would be asking me if my brother talks much at home, 'cause he's not participating in class(!)

Posted: Oct 11

Maybe you are just using this 'introversion' thing as an excuse... You sure it's for real?

Of course, all my introverted friends know exactly what I'm talking about.

But maybe you're all in denial. Why would society tell you that you're different if that isn't the case?

Think about it... Society tells me I can't have an awkward silence in a conversation. But I don't care - give me an introvert to talk to and we'll spend hours - much of it "awkward silences". And I'll come out feeling relaxed, refreshed even. Give me a conversation with an extrovert and I'm drained - I gradually retreat further inside myself until I need a few hours alone just to recover.

But humans are social beings! That has to be unhealthy

Maybe not... Introverts are still social, we just survive on our own. That's gotta be a good thing. Besides, humans are incredibly diverse. We're s'posed to recognize and respect difference, we're supposed to have a greater understanding of how the mind works... So people discover introversion, give it a name... And it's still oppressed.

Posted: Oct 17

Been thinking about the way introversion is presented in popular culture. Compare the descriptions given to extroverts and introverts:

Extroverts Introverts
people-person shy
outgoing reserved
smiles guarded
vibrant self-contained
warm arrogant
likes a good time quiet
strong-willed pushover

Sensing a pattern? These are the labels given by extroverts of course. Introverts like to think of extroverts as people who "talk before thinking", while us introverts think before we talk. So there is a counter-culture of sorts, but perhaps that's just because extrovert's tendency to act without thinking gets them in more trouble. Introverts survive by their caution - modern evolution?

But anyway, I took this list further... Particularly inspired by my school experience - the school liked to think of itself as "building character", and as a boy's school, building "real men". Unfortunately I don't particularly fit their image of a real man. A real man is an extrovert. By extension, introversion is effeminate. Where extroversion is associated with machismo, and with sport, introversion is weak and/or effeminate. Introversion is associated with arts, or with laziness or apathy - whatever is convenient. It is often the introverts who decline to get involved in team sports, which I suspect is tied strongly to their nature (non-confrontational?). And by the same nature, we must often appear apathetic - not because we don't hold strong points-of-view, just because we don't seek to share them with everyone. And that doesn't mean we're a pushover either, but somehow society assumes if one won't loudly defend one's position one is weak-willed.

Posted: Nov 13

Introverts need a leader... Someone to take our message to the world...

But who could do that, isn't the whole point of introversion that you avoid speaking?

Not at all... It's just everyday conversation - "small talk" - that we have trouble with. Plenty of introverts are excellent public speakers. A huge majority of actors are introverts - you can recognize the traits when you hear them interviewed... Some would suggest that's because introverts consider social behaviour just an act. So acting gives them the freedom of a different character. But it's true that politicians are largely extroverts - I guess that's the nature of the job...

So could you do it?

Perhaps... But no, not really... Maybe we just wait for the extroverts to destroy themselves. They're good at that; we're good at waiting patiently.

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