Jessica Ingold

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Let Me Finish: A Case for the Quiet Geniuses

Posted by Jessica Ingold on December 11, 2015 at 7:20 PM

Guys, I’ve wanted to write this blog for a VERY long time. How long, you ask? Well, since I started admitting to being an introvert—so, a few years, at least.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on hammering out the second installment of my three-book YA series. Prior to writing, I spent a full week drafting a fifteen-page outline that includes a colour-coordinated, chapter-by-chapter breakdown, a hyper-specific timeline, and a detailed set of sketches for all my major and minor characters, complete with birthdays, strengths, and weaknesses. All well and good, especially since I’m on course to finish the first draft some time before the New Year. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because in the midst of consulting my trusty outline, I realized something horrifying. In the process of characterizing one of my male characters, I wrote this in his Weaknesses column: Introverted.

I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal—and truth be told, it isn’t. But for someone who has spent her entire life being told she had to “come out of her shell” and “learn to adapt”, this sort of blunder is bitingly ironic. Introversion isn’t a weakness. I have known this my entire life, and yet, when tasked with defining the psychological makeup of a wholly fictional human being, my knee-jerk reaction was to perceive his soft-spoken demeanor as a handicap, as something he will eventually have to overcome rather than a source of limitless potential.

In my defense, this oversight may actually prove beneficial. You see, given that I’ve made the mistake of assuming my quintessentially introverted character will be at a disadvantage, I now have no choice but to explore his unique personality in exhaustive detail. I feel like I owe this to myself, and to everyone else who has ever been made to feel like they need to change in order to be socially acceptable. But before I do, there are a few things we need to discuss (and by ‘we’ I mean the 25% of us who are unified in our understanding that being quiet doesn’t mean we have nothing to say. But more on that later.)

So, without further ado, I present you with this handy list of 10 things extroverts need to stop saying to introverts. Extroverts: we love you guys, and we know you mean well. But for the love of all that is holy on this planet, please stop trying to indoctrinate us. We know—you’re cool. And chatty. And occasionally generous to the point of being overbearing. But we’re cool, too, even if it takes a little longer to see it.

And now, the list...

1. “So, do you talk?”

Nope. I’m mute. I go through my days communicating strictly through hand gestures and a series of systematic eye blinks reminiscent of Morse code. C’mon. I know this may come off as somewhat of a surprise, but introverts DO know how to engage in verbal conversation. Shocking, I know.

2. “Don’t be shy!”

Let’s get one thing straight here: introversion is not (I repeat, NOT) synonymous with being shy, just like not all extroverts are loud, boisterous, pushy, or self-absorbed. Sure, most of us may seem a little shy or reticent at first blush, but I promise you, it’s temporary. Think of it as being in power-save mode. (Spoiler alert: all introverts are robots. That’s why we’re so predictable.)

I should also mention that this question usually goes hand-in-hand with the first one, resulting in this loaded command: “Don’t be shy, say something!” You see, there’s this little glimmer of overlap between “Don’t be shy” and “Why aren’t you talking?” and this is where most of us introverts spend the majority of our time: on the narrow verge between not being shy and not having anything to say. Please stop asking me to come out of my shell simply to prove I have a set of fully functioning vocal cords. You’re embarrassing us both.

3. “Are you autistic?”

Guys, do I really need to explain why this is an absolute no-no? Further to my earlier point, introversion is not a disability, so stop treating it like one. Also, I think this is a good time to mention that pointing out defects or personal struggles of any kind is never appropriate. Just don’t do it. Rise above the impulse. Mind your own business. If you need help in this department, I know just the people to talk to…

4. “You know, if you really wanted to be an extrovert, you could.”

Wow. Thanks. I had no idea you guys were so inclusive. (Sarcasm. You social cheerleaders are always trying to get us to join your Awesome Club.) Here’s the thing, though…

We can’t (and even if we could, we probably wouldn't want to).

It’s true. Contrary to what some people believe, introversion isn’t a choice or a learned behaviour. There is an actual, physiological explanation for why some people exhibit introverted traits more frequently than others, and it has to do with how our brains process dopamine. Don’t believe me? Then read this.

Now, at the risk of alienating some of my more introverted friends, extroverts may not be entirely wrong on this one. After all, this isn’t Pleasantville and the world isn’t black and white. We’re human beings, not light switches. It doesn’t have to be an either-or type of thing. I’ve met outgoing introverts and standoffish extroverts. For the most part, though, most of us spend our lives closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. So, while we appreciate the invitation, it’s a LONG walk to the other side.

5. “You need to get out more.”

Why? Home has food…and cats…and Netflix.

In all seriousness, though, I’m an introvert, not an agoraphobe. If I didn’t leave my apartment, I’d starve. Being introverted doesn’t mean we’re anti-social. We like going out, just not all the time and not with so many people at once. We need our quiet downtime. It re-energizes us. So, in addition to being robots, we’re also batteries. Go figure.

Here’s another thing: introverts don’t usually invite themselves to social functions; it just isn’t in our nature. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hang out. Invite us anyway. We might still say no, but at least it will have been our choice, rather than an unfortunate miscommunication. Fact: everyone likes to feel included. Even introverts.

6. “So, I guess you’re a total nerd who plays chess and listens to Beethoven, right?”

Not all introverts are nerds (nerds—there’s another word that gets a lot of shade, eh?) Believe it or not, introverts’ interests can be just as diverse—and dare I say it, cool—as extroverts’. I don’t play chess (in fact, I suck at all games that involve a board) and I hate classical music (so sue me). Somewhere along the way, society developed this stereotypical view of introverts that includes a twiggy-looking, adenoidal-sounding, socially inept caricature that rejects pop culture and can recite the dictionary from memory.

I realize I’m exaggerating here, but the truth is, extroverts often have more in common with introverts than they think. We don’t like to talk about ourselves (or your aunt Sue’s geriatric poodle who just had hernia surgery), but we can bend your ear for hours about our passions: books, cooking, spelunking, semiology, artificial intelligence, wind surfing…you name it. Don’t talk about yourself, talk about your interests. You might be surprised by what we have to say.

7. “If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be more outgoing.”

There’s a longstanding belief that introverts make lousy leaders. This is simply not true (but then again, if society is so quick to cobble together a clichéd image of an introvert, why wouldn’t they do the same for people in positions of power?)

Yes, introverts engage with the world differently, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. We often tend to be more sensitive, analytical, and detail-oriented—qualities that are considered valuable in most workplaces—and yet so many environments seem averse to fostering them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little put-off by job ads seeking “outgoing, energetic, self-starting team-players.” Wallflowers need not apply. What ever happened to workplace diversity?

TL;DR: you don’t need to be outgoing to get ahead. You just need to know your stuff and stay true to yourself.

8. “No wonder you don’t have any friends.”

No. Do not say this. Not only is it pejorative, but it’s unnecessarily cruel. I’ve been on the receiving end of this one a few times, and guess what? It HURTS.

You know what makes introverts great friends? Their undying loyalty. Their sense of compassion. Their ability to tell when you’re not really okay. We’re perceptive like that, and we understand more than you give us credit for. Most of us don’t need a lot of friends, but by golly, we take care of our inner circles. Having lots of acquaintances is pretty handy, but is it really better than having a handful of fiercely loyal comrades with whom you can discuss your interests for hours on end? I guess it all depends on where you stand along the spectrum.

9. “Why are you so depressed? If you’re happy, you should smile more.”

I’m not depressed. I’m thinking. I know it can be tough to tell the two apart, but when I say I’m not depressed, I actually mean it. Introverts aren’t the Negative Nancies society makes us out to be. Most of us are actually pretty happy—we just don’t have the charismatic façade to prove it. Not to worry, though: the resting bitch face is part of our charm.

10. “What’s wrong? Are you OK? Are you sure? REALLY sure?”

Yes, I’m sure. I’m OK. Thanks for asking for the 500th time. No, really. I’m fine. Please stop asking. Everything is OK.

Did you hear that, guys? We’re all going to be A-OK—because we’re introverts and we’re AWESOME.

 

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