For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 6 February 2012

Here Come The Introverts

An article by Oliver Burkeman in Saturday's Guardian Weekend magazine really got me thinking. In it he writes about the difference between extroverts and introverts, and mentions a forthcoming book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking. The book rails against the 'New Groupthink' of a culture fixated on teamwork, open-plan offices and the wisdom of crowds. In an argument backed by research, Cain maintains that group brainstorming doesn't work and that open-plan workspaces are associated with high blood pressure and conflict.

All this made me consider again whether I am an extrovert or an introvert. I know I'm not an extrovert, and I've always put myself somewhere between the two if forced to consider the question. Partly, I suspect, because I may have felt there was something slightly sad, inward-looking, even maladjusted about introversion. Now, in my new mindful attitude of rigorous self-appraisal, I realise that, actually, I'm an introvert through and through, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. I can't help it; it's the way I am; it has lots of positive sides; and I wouldn't want to change.

As I've said many times on this blog, I love people (OK, usually one to one or in small groups rather than en masse) and couldn't do without them. In a large social gathering you might, on the surface, find me quite at ease, confident even. I've attended countless sales conferences. I've spoken at meetings. I'm comfortable doing rôle plays and group work on my current Counselling course. However, I do need my solitude. I'm happy in my own company. I can spend days, if not weeks, on my own and be completely unfazed. Indeed, I relish it.

Being an introvert doesn't mean you are shy, misanthropic, egocentric, un-community-minded. I wouldn't call myself any of those things — though I know I'm sometimes too sensitive, and I don't always like all of my fellow human beings, and I can retire into my own mind for quite lengthy periods, and I'd usually rather take a solitary walk than go to the village jumble sale.

The American author Jonathan Rauch defined an introvert as one who finds social interaction tiring and solitude revitalising, while for extroverts the reverse is true. That chimes very much with me. And Susan Cain insists that solitude is crucial to creativity. Which is also very much my own experience.

I often love company on my walks; I like meeting new people; I enjoy stimulating conversation. I like communication and strive for connection. But I can also quite easily say goodbye to the person I'm talking to and stride off on my own. It's the best of both worlds, perhaps.

19 comments:

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I think a person can be an extrovert and an introvert. I think I am a bit that way. It depends on the subject... and about a hundred other factors!
x

George said...

Great post! My experience has been much like yours. In my youth, I was inculcated with the idea that extroversion was the natural tendency of a well-developed, healthy personality, whereas introversion was a reflection of insecurities—perhaps a benign maladjustment. While I still enjoy the specific company of kindred spirits, I now find that my default psychological position is introversion, precisely for the reason identified in Rauch's definition; I often find social interaction to be exhausting, whereas solitude is usually both creative and revitaizing.

As we have discussed before, one is always searching for the proper balance. In time, however, I has discovered that the tipping point has shifted closer to introversion than extroversion. That said, I always welcome the company of people like you and the others I find in the blogosphere. In the off-line world, however, I have found it more difficult to find kindred spirits.

The Solitary Walker said...

Rachel — Yes, I find I too can be both, depending on the situation. But my extroversion is probably well practised play acting, whereas my default position is introversion, I'm sure. It's a complicated thing, isn't it? I've been in situations where, according to others, I've been 'the life and soul of the party'. Yet, when the party was over, I was so glad to be on my own. The older I get, the less I want to play act.

George — I think I'm pretty much in sympathy with you here! I'd rather have a few, deep friendships than a thousand polite and superficial fripperies. Time is so short, and we must follow our real instincts and desires, doing what we must do rather than what we were taught we ought/should do in our younger and not so younger days.

The Weaver of Grass said...

From what I know of you Robert, I would say that you have summed yourself up very well.

Bouncing Bertie said...

I too saw the Guardian/Burkeman piece and was intrigued enough to look up the Rauch article. A wonderful read. But then I've long known that I'm 100% introvert, and always have found social interaction tiring (even when I really enjoy the company) and solitude revitalising. Having worked for companies where you were considered a bit suspect, if not a downright loser, if you voiced a preference for working in your own quiet space, not in open plan, it's great to see the introvert's perspective given airtime.
Cheers,
Gail (happily now working at home in my study, dog lying peacefully at me feet. Bliss.)

Grizz………… said...

Well, I almost managed to come to a conclusion about myself here. Your post certainly made me reconsider what I think I know about my own personality, though in the end I still find myself in puzzling conflict—loner, people-person? Introvert, extrovert?

I love people—small groups, en masse, strangers, semi-acquaintances…doesn't matter. I'm equally comfortable alone, and think nothing of spending an extended period with only my own company. I like solitude. Like you, I certainly "don't always like all of my fellow human beings." But at that mention of going for the solitary walk or attending a village jumble sale, I found myself going…hummm, wonder if there'd be any good books or old prints being offered up? All the while figuring I could go walk later.

What really keeps it muddled for me, I guess, are those definitions—that introverts find social interaction tiring and solitude revitalizing; for me, the latter is true while the former is not. And while there are few professions less group-necessary than creative writing, I must say I've been in on various brainstorming sessions such as advertising campaigns, where the group dynamic contributed positively to the creative outcome.

Perhaps the truest indicator of my own ultimate leanings is that I tend to make few genuine friends, but am generally "friends for life" with those I do, and that they're unquestionably kindred spirits.

Laurel said...

I just finished reading Susan Cain's book, which I suspect had an earlier North American release date. It is a worthwhile read for sure.

She doesn't write that "brainstorming doesn't work", but that groups and teams have taken over in such away that no space is left for the solitary creative work, thinking and problem solving that is at least equally necessary and valuable. Her criticism of group-think is more a plea that our society is out of balance than anything else, catering more and more to the extroverts among us and becoming less functional for introverts.

Importantly, she makes it plain at the beginning that there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or introvert and, as Carl Jung said, if such a person did exist, it would be in the insane asylum. Not only that, but there really is such a thing as an "ambivert" equally contented with inner and outer pursuits, solitude and socializing. They're rare, but they exist.

She also discusses how introverts become more extroverted throughout their lifetimes when their passion and drive require them to get their message or creation out to the world and gives many examples of extreme introverts who've become as outward as they had to in order to succeed wildly at everything from sales, to investing, to inventing/designing the Apple computer, to teaching, to securing an independent future for India.

The most important message of the book is how quietly powerful introverts are in a world that thinks brash and bold constitutes strength and stamina - introverts have inner strength and a whole array of personal skills that are their natural gifts . . . if only they were perceived as gifts, rather than hindrances, by our extroversion-obsessed culture.

Gardener in the Distance said...

Robert, nicely said. I've always been introverted myself - you are what you are, after all - though I've found it healthy and necessary to practise SOME extroversion! Yes, the world has become a very loud place, full of competing identities and the noise of their traffic. We could certainly do with more of a hush.

Bonnie said...

I'm with you Robert. It is the best of both worlds. I count myself fortunate to not fall too far into either extreme on the continuum.

Susan Scheid said...

I'm sorry I don't have my Jung book to hand. He had so many interesting things to say about "introversion." This is vastly over-simplified, but, in his nomenclature, introverts are inner-directed. In the minority, so much misunderstood. Nothing to do with shy. I think, overall, there were problems with Jung's approach (not that I really know what I'm talking about), but I love the way he wrote about "introversion."

Nick said...

I think it's entirely possible to expend too much effort in analysing the roles you play - 'loving people', 'at ease', 'confident', 'happy in my my own company', 'too sensitive', etc. The trick, I suspect, is to understand that they ARE in fact roles that you (we) drop in and out of, labels you (we)adopt to meet a perceived need, and that they merely overlay an underlying reality Find that, be comfortable with it and there'll be no need, I think, for this kind of 'intellectual' analysis.

am said...

This is making me think of Thomas Merton, one of those who thoroughly enjoyed being with people for limited periods of time but was quickly exhausted and regained his vitality in solitude.

In recent years, I've been revitalized by meeting with a group of eccentric friends (men and women, all ages) for breakfast in the early mornings. There is an opportunity to meet on a daily basis. I'm going out this morning to meet with them. Although I am clearly an introvert, there is more extrovert to me than there used to be!

Maybe blogging has something to do with that!

Grace said...

I can be both, but I'm definitely an introvert.

I like Jonathan Rauch's definition of an introvert "as one who finds social interaction tiring and solitude revitalising, while for extroverts the reverse is true," because I think that is the core of the difference, not saddess, shyness, misanthropic etc. Most introverts I know are very compassionate and community-minded people.

Rubye Jack said...

Having always been an introvert, there certainly has always been a rather disconcerting side to it. I've always felt quite different from others since by the nature of introversion you don't easily meet others who are the same way in their thinking.

In the community where I live now most everyone is an extrovert, perhaps everyone, and someone told me the other day that they say I don't like having people over. It was said like there was something wrong with it. It is true that I don't like having people over, but I certainly see nothing wrong with being a "loner". Or, an introvert.

Dominic Rivron said...

I think I'm a bit of an ambivert.

Ruth said...

I heard a piece about introversion on NPR this week and found it interesting. Back when I took the Myers-Briggs personality profile, I found that I was supposedly right in the middle between introversion and extroversion. It's really about what fills you up, what energizes you, as you say. The older I get, the more solitude fills me up, and I need it just as much as I need food or water. I find that more and more others recognize this for themselves too, which makes it easier to beg off when I don't want to do something social.

Yes, creativity must have open space!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Pat... and Gail, that does indeed sound like bliss...

Grizz: Thanks so much for your long and thoughtful comment. Well, yes — the jumble sale, THEN the walk! Makes sense to me...

Laurel, thanks for your very valuable and interesting comments on the Susan Cain book. I've linked to your blog review in my latest post...

Bonnie — balancing between the extremes is always good (I've just been reading the Dalai Lama's 'The Art Of Happiness', which is all about this).

Sorry, I'm running out of time... thanks so much Susan, Nick, am, Grace, Rubye Jack, Dominic and Ruth for your comments also. This more personal post seems to have created a great discussion.

Goat said...

Sorry I arrived at this discussion late as it's something I also give a lot of time to considering. My friend Chris, who gave me the 'Psychopath' book and is very fond of reading about the brain, described us both as introverts. This was both old news and slightly puzzling to me. In my childhood and teens I was very shy, but in later years sang for a rock band, I stand in front of groups and speak every day in my job, and now have a blog...

But that definition you quote hits the nail on the head. I always feel like I'm at least partly "performing" in any group situation, to the point of using lines that have worked for me in the past - and desperately longing for an exit. One word that can usually get my heart racing (and not in pleasurable anticipation) is "party". It caused a lot of conflict when I was certain relationships with a "party girl" type.

A theory (confirmed by your commenters): the majority of we blogging fiends are introverts - we do like to interact with the world, but on our own terms, and blogging gives us that control and quasi-anonymity. And we are just as happy going off on our own to find solace and inspiration (your blog title would be pretty weird as 'The Gregarious Walker'. How about 'The Gruntled Loner'?

The Solitary Walker said...

Hi Gardener in the Distance — only just spotted your comment up there!

And thanks, Goat, for your long and interesting contribution. (I also was in a local rock band for a while — but the retiring, half-cut keyboard player at the back.) Yes, I think 'Gregarious Walker' would be yawn-inducing. And 'Gruntled Loner' sounds rather unpleasant — rather like the runt of the litter.