There’s a lot of talk among introverts about the strength and power of introversion. Far be it from me, as an extrovert, to question this wisdom. However, it holds a lot more weight when a fellow introvert asks what a lot of others are thinking:
What’s the difference between being introverted and rude if it presents the same way to strangers? Do your motives for being introverted exonerate you from any criticism (“It’s okay if I leave a party early without saying goodbye or silently make everyone else feel awkward because I’m a nice person inside”)?
“A spate of articles and social media posts on the glories of staying home in one’s pj’s suggests that I am not the only one who went overboard once the “introvert” label came to imply a deep thinker with a rich inner life rather than a lone gunman.
Sometimes, says Ms. Cain, “you have to consider the other person’s point of view instead of getting wrapped up in your own discomfort.”
Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.
There’s another argument to be made, though, that those deeper connections are the easy ones. It’s the looser ties, the ones that have to be created or re-created at each meeting, that are tough. Life is largely lived among acquaintances and strangers. So many fall into problematic categories: some appear different or unapproachable, some we actively dislike, some we’ve failed to connect with in the past. What do we have to gain from even trying?
A lot, as it turns out. When I skip big gatherings of strangers, I’m not just being a little rude to the individual people around me, I’m being uncivil in a larger sense. The more we isolate ourselves from new people, the more isolated and segregated our society is likely to become. Those casual interactions in dog runs and at kids’ hockey games are the ones that are most likely to cross social and economic barriers. They expand my little world as well as the overlapping bubbles that create a society.
We can respect our own introversion, and embrace the “quiet” people among us, without abandoning every challenging interaction. When I asked Ms. Cain (while interviewing her about introversion in teenagers) if self-indulgent introverts risked crossing the line into antisocial behavior – if we might, in fact, just be being rude – she laughed, and agreed. Sometimes, she said, “you have to consider the other person’s point of view instead of getting wrapped up in your own discomfort.”
Change requires responsibility, vigilance and humility. Change is hard.
I think that’s a brilliant level of self-awareness and self-criticism. The same way readers routinely tell me that I should be more sensitive and tactful, this is another call to awareness for people who let themselves slide because they’d rather not change. Why? Because change requires responsibility, vigilance and humility. Change is hard. It’s much easier to say, “I’m an introvert/victim/woman/man. Don’t tell me what to do – even though what I’m doing isn’t really working all that well for me!”
Concludes the author:
“I may be naturally reserved, and more comfortable alone than I will ever be in a crowd, but I am not at the mercy of my nature. There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others.
That’s not about introversion. It’s just an ordinary version of selfishness.”
Your thoughts, as always, are greatly appreciated below.