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The Care and Feeding of Extroverts

Maybe my perspective is skewed by fandom, but I think people like Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking) are overstating the case just a wee bit with the claim that introverts are undervalued to the point of being "second-class citizens." I tried to listen to her NPR interview a few months back (and read several articles/blog posts circulated in the last year or so) with an open mind, but winced with dismay at the suggestion that introversion/extroversion should be regarded as a simple fact of a person's psyche, like sexual orientation. I recoil from this idea not because I don't think we should respect everyone's mode of interaction -- I absolutely do! -- but because I'm more than a little skeptical of the need for one more set of binary boxes to shove everyone into so we can claim to understand them without thinking any further about it. To be fair, Cain clarified that she does grasp the need for nuance, that not all traits will apply to everyone given a particular label, but let's be real here. Humans are hard-wired to make assumptions based on labels.

So, as much as I was cheered to see someone tackle the topic from another perspective, I clicked the link to this blog post with some trepidation. Which turned out to be quite unwarranted, and I recommend it highly:

People assume that because extroverts appear to be the dominant paradigm, everyone knows what we want and how to deal with us. They roll their eyes when we suggest that maybe, possibly, "You all just want to be worshiped and adored and listened to as you talk CONSTANTLY about NOTHING," is not actually what is going on inside the mind of the extrovert. An ex once sent me a 'care and feeding of introverts' explanation that included things like, "you need to understand that unlike extroverts, we're not yappy dogs just spewing whatever trivial thoughts happen through our shallow brains. We're usually thinking about what we say before we say it." He genuinely did not understand why that was hurtful.


4. Because we need alone time, we actually do understand and respect introverts when they tell us they need to be alone. By the time an extrovert with any sort of self-awareness reaches adulthood, she understands that 'Social Butterfly' is not a lifestyle for everyone, and that other people do not feel the same way about human contact. As noted above, people seem to assume that the world is divided into only introverts and extroverts, and what springs from that is an expectation that people who talk to people -- and especially the people who urge others to talk more -- are all extroverts bent on making everyone else conform to their behaviour. This isn't true, and the same Aunt Whoever that tells an introverted niece, "You shouldn't be so quiet all the time. No one will notice you. You need to be outgoing," tells her extroverted niece, "You talk too much, monopolize people's attention. You should learn to be quieter, more modest, not so outgoing."

To an introvert, Aunt Whoever looks like the tyranny of extroverts as the dominant social paradigm, but she's actually just a nosy, bullying busybody who likes to tell other people what's wrong with them. The dark secret of Aunt Whoever? She's not an extrovert at all. She doesn't like people or enjoy social interaction; she just considers it a necessary and unpleasant duty she should make sure everyone is equally miserable performing. She doesn't respect your need to refrain, any more than she respects my need to participate, because she simply can't fathom a world that isn't full of miserable people faking sincerity in social situations they resent with people they don't really like.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 24th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
Man, I remember in sixth grade when introvert and extrovert were vocabulary words, and the teacher asked the class who was an extrovert. Introverts she'd described as quiet and tending to dwell in their own thoughts. I thought that fit me better than outgoing and interested in others, so I kept my hand down. Everyone else raised their hands, and the teacher looked at me and said, "What, you don't care about other people?"

In retrospect I realize what horrible definitions those were, and what a horrible thing that teacher was doing, but that was one of the most mortifying things that ever happened to me in school. Suddenly I was that self-absorbed girl who didn't care about other people.

So as an introvert who does try to be less introverted, I appreciate your remark about boxes. It's one more way of making people feel different and out of place, whether introvert or extrovert.
Aug. 24th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Ugh. It's easy to see why anecdotal situations like that can give people the impression the whole of society thinks they're wrong, so I don't entirely fault the "We introverts are so misunderstood and put-upon!" crowd, because obviously somebody made them feel that way. But making another us vs. them out of it so doesn't help.

When the "Care and Feeding of Your Introvert" post was making the rounds, I saw a lot of comments (can't remember whether the author weighed in on it) positing that the "yappy dog" thing was just satirical exaggeration. I didn't manage to formulate coherently at the time that a joke like that at the expense of people who, yes, already worry that they're coming off as flaky and scatterbrained? Is a pretty poor joke.
Aug. 24th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
I think it's probably helpful to realize that most people struggle with something along these lines, whether introvert or extrovert. I worry about coming off as arrogant and unsociable. I've known extroverts who worry about coming off as flakes.

I've only ever had one person (aside from that awful teacher) specifically comment on it. A friend told me once that sometimes I come off as aloof, but she understood that the difference between us was that she was more extroverted.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm shooting myself in the foot, though, by trying to be more outgoing than I'm generally inclined to be. Occasionally, when I'm too tired to make the effort, people get really concerned that I'm sick. ;)
Aug. 24th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
It's always a tough call -- when is it worth challenging yourself, and when is there not really a reward in it?
Aug. 24th, 2012 03:44 pm (UTC)
LOL! I think they got Aunt Whoever PEGGED TO A T! :)
Aug. 24th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
The "Aunt Whoever" thing is GENIUS.
Aug. 26th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
Oh man yes! Also, everyone ever agrees I'm an extrovert, but I discovered I can't host parties because at some point I need to go hide and as the host I can't. At cons I burn out in about .5 seconds flat. That's weird! I've been told. Not extrovert behavior at all!

Oh, ok. Good to know. Also, bite me.
Aug. 28th, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
Thus underscoring the point about shoving people into boxes. Much sympathy. :-/
Aug. 28th, 2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
Exactly. Thank you. Also, I hope it was clear that the 'bite me' wasn't directed at you... ;)
Aug. 28th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
It was clear, but thanks for checking. :-)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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