Examining Introverts and Extroverts

Published in The Optimist on April 16.

We all know the stereotypes. Introverts are the hermits at home watching Netflix, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. Extroverts are the party animals afraid of being alone for more that two seconds. Both stereotypes, but with a hint of truth.

So what is the reality of introversion and extroversion? To find out, I’ve been reading an excellent book by Susan Cain called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Full disclosure: I’m an introvert. Hence the fact that I’m writing this all alone in an empty house.

What I’ve learned is that American society is geared toward extroverts. Job applications list “outgoing” as a desirable quality and companies set up collaborative office spaces that actually reduce employees’ ability to focus. Brainstorming is still done in groups, despite research that shows the best ideas are incubated alone.

Churches value outward signs of worship and admire people who have the boldness to share the gospel with total strangers. I’ve personally experienced the extrovert bias at churches here in Abilene. While I thrive spiritually in the company of a few close accountability partners, I often feel pressured to attend more and more church events in the name of building a community. It’s not a bad structure; it’s just imbalanced.

With the rise of the Internet, introverts have finally discovered a public platform free of the intimidation of a (visible) audience. Now the world can hear their side of the story. Unfortunately, however, these discussions often devolve into praising the intellectual introvert and bashing the high-maintenance extrovert. (I’m looking at you, Tumblr.)

In the end, introversion and extroversion are just labels. They provide a vocabulary for understanding ourselves, but it’s all too easy to be constrained within those categories. The truth is, we need both kinds of people in our society. Can you imagine going to a party full of introverts? Painful, right?

The point of all this is to become well-rounded people with the ability to thrive in all situations. We have so much to learn from each other: extroverts could benefit from a little introspection and introverts would be delighted to gain the skills for easy conversation. Let’s call a truce on this war of personalities and learn to grow into the well-adjusted people we were meant to be.