I am from a small town where labels run rampant. These labels are practically emblazoned on our foreheads by the time we enter middle school, and without even realizing it, we tend to let these labels dictate our behavior and how we interact with others. This was especially the case for me when I realized that there was something called an “introvert.”
I never considered myself to be quiet, shy, or anything of the like. I was simply being myself. This was the case until I was labeled “the quiet girl.” Once this label was attached to my personality, my world completely changed. People began to assume certain things about me because I was “quiet.” People assumed that I was afraid to speak up, inferior to louder individuals, that I had something to hide, and that I was altogether antisocial. Because of these criticisms, I began to sink further into my shell.
Years after I was branded “quiet”, I learned about what an introvert was. That is when I realized that there was most certainly an “Introvert-Extrovert Divide” happening right in my own school. I began to see that the extroverts that stuck together seemed to think that they were better than the introverts. They proudly spoke up in class, socialized like it was their job, and consistently kept reminding us just how sad our quiet states were. Many teachers rewarded them for their efforts. As for the introverts, many of them put forth an extraordinary amount of energy to keep up with the less-reserved, extroverted classmates of ours. It was a constant state of push and pull.
Wanting to know more about introverts, I did my research. What I read was disheartening. I read that introverts are under-valued in our society because they’re not seen as leaders. They’re not often seen as assets because they’re not the “life of the party” and are not deemed to be good at brashly selling themselves. Basically, introverts are not seen as valuable in a society that emphasizes the business culture.
What shocked me the most, during my research, was the definition of “introvert” in the New Oxford American Dictionary (the one programmed into Apple computers). The definition reads: “a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person.” Every time I read this definition, I begin to laugh uncontrollably because it feels as if I was just slapped by my own computer. The “self-centered” part of the definition is what really gets me going.
Introverts are not self-centered; that is an entirely different trait. Being self-centered has nothing to do with being an introvert. Yes, I am quiet sometimes, but that does not mean that I only care about myself. For me, personally, it is quite the opposite. I spend a majority of my social energy caring about others, giving advice, being empathetic, and doing my best to help others that are struggling.
On the other hand, I have met some extroverts that are self-centered. They only care about using their sociable charisma to get ahead, even if that means using others in the process. Therefore, I do not believe that “self-centered” can be used to describe introverts or extroverts. It simply depends on the person.
Taking a closer look at the dictionary on my computer, I noticed that the word “introvert” has no synonyms in the thesaurus. As for “extrovert”, there are quite a few synonyms, including: outgoing, sociable, genial, and friendly. At this point, I believe that these labels have been taken too far. Are extroverts the only ones that are friendly? Introverts cannot be outgoing? Are extroverts the only ones that deserve positive synonyms in the thesaurus? I just do not understand why our culture has divided us to the point where we cannot just be ourselves without having to worry about the consequences.
I am not writing this article to make people feel sympathetic for introverts. I know that extroverts have their own set of problems as well. I just want people to look critically and ask questions in regard to the labels that bind us. More importantly, I want people to realize that these labels are not set in stone. We have the power to ignore them and just continue being ourselves. We have the power to realize that we are more complex than the simple labels that are thrown our way. Even though labels make things easier, it does not mean that they should dictate how we live our lives, or how we create our dictionaries.