In a World of People People

People are such strange and lovely creatures, but are also things which I am positive I will never fully understand. And I'm ok with that. This is my blog, so I can do exactly as I wish. I have decided that today's entry will break from the somewhat impersonal exploratory thought-essay that they tend to turn into and become a slightly more personal, "bloggy" entry full of lists and advice and stuff like that.

I remember when I was a kid, we in the Barber house would read this book about an Otter and a Beaver and a Lion and a Golden Retriever that served as an illustration for how we all have different personality types and how those different types can interact with each other. In hindsight, it is not all that surprising that we read such books, because my parents, both having double majors with one of them being in Psychology, understood the value of application for the things we learned through reading or movies or TV shows. The talking animals endured challenges in the pursuit of four pieces of a key in order to unlock a gate only by highlighting different things each was good at. I feel like there was a quiz or something in the back of the book to figure out which animal you most resembled, but it usually turned into my siblings and me arguing over who got to be the fun little Otter or the action hero Lion.

It didn't take long, however, to realize that there are two major distinctions between these four animals, and that kids learn early to point it out. It is tricky being an introvert in an extrovert's world.

I found two marvelous articles (1, 2) about misconceptions of the introvertedly inclined, on which I will be leaning in this post. In fact, in addition to the link down below, they may be more important than whatever I have to say about them.

There are things that every extrovert needs to know about his oppositely-minded brethren. And all of my similarly inclined readers may add anything at any point.

1) Do not confuse "introvert" with "shy" or "anti-social." Related: do not get upset if they decline your invitation to the big Super Bowl party you're planning or to some gathering of more than, say, 5 (including you and said introvert. This is serious business). It is not a commentary on your relationship with them that they politely decline (even if they're bad about making excuses like, "sorry, I have a lot of homework" or "I'm going to be hanging out with my family" or "I really don't feel like hanging out tonight").

If this sounds selfish, imagine the opposite: you extroverted, group-minded majority want nothing more than to throw a smashing good party with all of the people you can imagine celebrating the fact that it's Thursday and instead you are bombarded by people telling you you really should just go home and read a book instead. You keep asking people to go out and they keep imploring you to stay in. You get fidgety sitting idly behind doors or walking aimlessly in silence around a path by a lake. You want something to do and somebody to do it with.

It's not a selfish thing that you want to get everybody together and laugh and have a good time, it's a normal thing for you - that is the way you're wired. Well, the introvert is wired just the opposite way: large groups, even if they are familiar, put them at unease (to say the least). Constant requests to "go do things" make them nervy. Don't consider it an insult that they're not particularly excited to participate in things like this, and take it as a compliment when they eventually, sporadically, do.

2) Do not make the mistake of thinking introverts do not like to talk. Some of the most talkative people I know are quite introverted - it just has to be about something that they can engage with their brains.

However, and this is very important, there are few things more discomforting to an introverted person than small talk... which leads to a dislike of large groups, which leads to the stigma of being antisocial and mute. Get us talking about something that we love and I promise you won't be able to make us stop until you get up and leave. Tell us the sorts of things that interest you and we'll discuss it together. We don't even have to have a vested interest in the topic, we just like to be able to process things and interpret things and form opinions about things and engage with the subject of conversation with some emotion.

"Extroverts thrive on small talk," says one of the above mentioned pages. "Introverts abhor it." So if an introvert seems particularly silent when you're asking redundant, shallow questions, there is probably a very good reason - and it is not that they do not like to talk. They just don't like to talk about the weather or whether or not we enjoyed dinner or generic conversation starters like "so, what's new?"

Silence is not the enemy for an introvert, and attempts at combating the silence with small talk will only make it more awkward for everybody involved. Do not assume that something is wrong just because we're not saying anything - because if we're dragged into something that just seems like painful attempts to break silence, something will quickly become the matter.

3. We do not hate people. I cannot stress this enough. I will of course joke along with my little sister who insists that I do in the comfort of my home, but the truth could not be more opposite. They are not people that we back away from, but superficial relationships. When we find people we connect with, whom we can call friends, loyalty is unquestioned. Friendship is something that we take extraordinarily seriously and is something that we won't give up easily once it is acquired.

When the occasion calls for it, we can play the genuine people people card. We can be with big groups, entertain large crowds, play music all night long to as many people will listen - but we seek solace to recharge afterwards, because, frankly, people are tiring. Even people we like.

On a related note, if we are by ourselves in the corner of a restaurant or sitting alone in the middle of a movie theater or in a public place without company, it is not because we are sad. We are not "brooding." Alone and lonely are two incredibly different things - and yes, even people who do not crave the attention of other people get lonely. We feel it without authentic and sincere connection, which is just terribly difficult to achieve in a big group.

Not only do we not hate people, but I daresay that the majority of us are very good at reading people, because we practice all the time reading ourselves. The self has become a scary topic and we try to drown it out with music and media and masses of people... but I think that the more you listen to yourself and figure out all of the things that aren't right with you, the quicker you can set about fixing it. We can spot the self-doubt and the fear of rejection and the pride and the true happiness and the frustration. We are aware of how we interact with the space and the people around us (most of the time). We love any chance we get to turn acquaintance in to friend, but we understand that those don't come around as often as they should.

4. We can't change it. We are wired this way, just like you (I say "you" because I'm assuming that if you're not nodding your head in assent, you're of the extroverted persuasion, which is absolutely, completely fine) cannot change your wiring. It's a game of bottom lines - when it comes right down to it, we look for that quality connection in other people. I can talk to anybody about anything when it's a one-on-one situation. I'll stay for hours seated in a hallway with 4 friends after setting up the gym for church - because we have gotten past the superficial nonsense.

Do not misunderstand me. We don't want to have big, sublime talks about existential quandaries or intense discussions about philosophical treatises or any of that all the time - but there is a point when you move past the stuff anybody talks about and onto the stuff that friends talk about. When the connection gets personal. But we cannot be around people all the time, no matter how much we like you. We need that alone time to recharge and file our thoughts away and solve puzzles and breathe. We need to go to movies by ourselves and walk nowhere for no reason but the pleasure of walking and eat dinner with a book in our hand and make sure that we have ourselves at least partly figured out before we go on trying to figure other people out.

I said all of that stuff to say that there is no reason we cannot get along, intro- and extroverts. It just takes a little bit of understanding and throwing away of common misconceptions: Introverts are socially educated and competent, not morose and brooding. For every hour we spend socializing, it can take up to two to recharge, to collect ourselves, to digest. We are not "antisocial" and we are not "depressed," it's just that recharging is like sleeping at the end of the day or eating when you are hungry - a necessity. We are not arrogant (on purpose). We are not judgmental.

I will end with a pretty fantastic quote from another wonderful article to read about this (all of the links I have put in this post are, I daresay, more worth reading than this post itself), from the author named Jonathan.

"The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say 'I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.'"

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.