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.