Happy introverts’ day

2008-01-03 00:00

Ahh, January 2. The day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief. We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone and to stop pretending that we’re under the weather. Hip Hip Hooray! The holidays are over.

Yes, from mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighbourhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.

I speak from experience. My name is Diane and I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and, in fact, very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time.

I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people”, as if being introverted meant living on the dark side. But I finally got it.

This is also one of the blessings of maturity, a wisdom that brings a “what you see is what you get” self-acceptance, or perhaps for introverts it’s, “who you don’t see is what you get”. It is a great relief to stop trying to be who you’re not.

But it’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Up to 75% of the population is considered extroverted, so we’re outnumbered three-to-one. American culture tends to reward extroversion, while being disdainful and suspicious of reflection and solitude.

I’ve learnt to spot my like-minded peers, though. We’re the folks walking toward a festive house saying, “How long do we have to stay?” Or we’re the ones in the centre of the room assessing others’ interactions and slowly backing towards the door. Introverts crave meaning, so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.

Here’s what introverts are not: we’re not afraid and we’re not shy. Introversion has little to do with fear or reticence. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. That’s why small talk annoys us. So does pretending to be happy or excited or anything that we’re not.

We saw that play out in the 2004 presidential campaign. Most introverts knew immediately what that campaign-killing screech of Howard Dean was all about. It was the consequence of an introvert trying to act extroverted. I’m sure he attempted that exuberance based on the advice of media consultants: “Dean should be more outgoing, more charismatic.” Well, ya know what? Dean wasn’t any of those things.

I do think that many of our better presidents have been introverts: Abraham Lincoln, Jimmy Carter, and John Adams — both father and son.

If they really were introverts, it makes their rise to the presidency all the more remarkable, because introverts are constantly swimming against the tide.

Introverted children are pressured to “speak up” and “make friends” — or told they’re not leaders. Introverted adults are hounded to “be more outgoing” and tortured with invitations that begin, “Why don’t we all...” No thanks, we don’t want to do anything that involves “we” and “all”; we prefer to visit you, just you, and not a dozen other people.

The 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” Introverts do.

So let’s make January 2 “Happy Introverts’ Day”. We’ll be quiet and happy.

— The Christian Science Monitor.

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