A Rallying Cry To Awkward Introverts In This Polarizing Time

I’m a self-possessed (self-centered, more like) creature.

I saw an article recently titled “Why You Can’t Stop Looking at Other People’s Screens,” and I tried to think of an instance when I could recall looking at someone else’s phone (or computer, or tablet, etc.) uninvited. I could not. Some of this is a disdain for being nosy (at least in a backhanded, devious sort of way), but is mostly due to a genuine lack of interest. Whatever they are doing is no business of mine, for the most part, and why look at what they are doing when I could be looking at what I am doing? There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, but that’s for another nonsensical piece, perhaps.

I’m also notoriously bad at overhearing the conversations around me –my husband is very good at this and frequently remarks on comments he has overheard and to which I am utterly oblivious. He has since learned to not even bother, like trying to explain the punch line of a joke, inherently not worth it. A friend recently complained to me that she hates trying to read or concentrate on anything when her children are at home or awake because she naturally tunes into their voices and is perpetually distracted by them. I struggle to hear (I say hear but I really mean ‘process’) my baby crying sometimes, or my teenage daughter explaining the finer points of Fortnight. It is usually my husband who wakes first when the baby cries over the monitor –shaking me into consciousness when it is my turn to deal with the latest infant crisis or stumbling across the house when it is his. I have legitimate anxiety about not being able to wake up when one of my children screams or something similar -I once slept through the giant mirror in our living room crashing to the ground which woke every other occupant in the house except me.

I exist so heavily and so frequently in my own head that I rarely venture out of it and only for select people. My thoughts are far more interesting, in my sad opinion than making small talk in the work break area. I told a friend recently (the same one who can actually hear her children when they cry) that I can be interesting and charming in small doses — I have a sense of humor a mile wide and sarcasm is my mother-tongue– but I petter out as soon as I enter the awkward ‘acquaintance’ phase. Either we’re friends, the kind that talk deeply and seriously, or I wave to you in the hallways and hurry to my destination, internally dreading having to discuss the weather or the weird smell emanating from the work cafeteria, neither of which interest me.

I, shockingly, had very few friends in elementary school (I didn’t have many more in Middle School or High School, in case you were curious). There were a variety of reasons for this, some sadder than others, but the truth is I preferred my own thoughts to the thoughts of others. I discovered the magic of books around the age of eight and that was the beginning of the end for me (A Wrinkle in Time was the first real book I remember reading and Meg Murray will forever be how I picture my pre-teen self). For all of fifth grade, I would spend my entire lunch recess walking laps around the soccer/baseball field, daydreaming. Sad? Possibly, but I consider this with some amount of fondness, recalling how I would tackle modern issues (through my limited understanding) as I constructed my preferred reality –that occasionally featured things like dragons and wizards.

On top of this, I made up stories, all the time, for no reason. In less kind terms –I told a great deal of lies, some more harmless (or harmful, I suppose) than others. Now, sitting comfortably on the other side of thirty, I can look back with less judgment of my younger self and a bit more empathy (much easier to give away than to keep, it turns out) and understand a bit better. Things weren’t great for me at home and, being 10 years old, I dealt with this by constructing a different life, fabricated happily from my overactive imagination. A more interesting and happy life, one that I could understand when my reality made no sense the vast majority of the time. It also gave me a lens through which to view others around me later in life; weren’t we all just trying to construct a world for ourselves that made sense, one that we could bear to live in?

With this self-absorption comes a distinct lack of situational awareness (SA, in layman’s terms because the Marine who teased me about having the least amount of SA he’d ever seen, definitely used the acronym), at least in passing. If I’m absorbed by a conversation or person I turn my observation skills into hyperdrive, cataloging every eye twitch, every half smile, every gesture. But in passing …people might as well not even exist for the most part.

It’s a shame, really. People fascinate me, at least objectively, and from a distance. I spend a great deal of my time and brain power considering why it is that we do the things we do, digging into the hidden complexities of our words and actions and wondering if buried beneath it all is the secret to the universe (this is just a fancy way of saying I tend to overanalyze things). I’ve got an empathetic streak that is perhaps a bit wider even than my propensity for humor –I could have a Master’s degree in tension diffusion– and I tend to make a hobby of finding the good in people (for better or for worse). There’s a famous quote that essentially boils down to the idea that we could love anyone if we just got to know them, a sentiment that has always resonated with me profoundly. None of us are wholly good or wholly evil, we all exist somewhere in between and our opinions of others (and ourselves) form from where were are standing and pointing our indicting little fingers.

Like most weaknesses, within mine, there is the potential for strength. I have spent a lifetime trying to turn this particular weakness into something I could use, into something that might benefit myself and the people around me. I’ve always been told I’m easy to talk to, to open up to. I invite dialogue and confidence because inside I’m dying to peel away the layers of the people around me and get to their messy, beautiful, jagged cores and draw out their truth’s so I can find that flicker of sameness that we all have beneath the veneer of our differences. There are plenty of people I don’t particularly enjoy, that I think are ignorant or detrimentally stubborn, but I’ve found that even within such people there is a kernel of relation, of common ground where we can both stand without slipping and falling into a nonsensical disagreement. This sacred space is where I live and breathe, trying to find connection when I do collide with another being long enough to escape my own mind.

In this time of polarization, where a chasm has begun to form that seems to get wider each and every day, I feel almost burdened by this propensity and desire for understanding. I feel torn between this eternally perpetuated idea of what it means to stand up for who and what you are as if we are not mutable and ever-changing creatures -as if trying to understand opposing views is somehow a weakness rather than a strength. Perhaps we aren’t as changeable as I would like to believe; maybe it’s just me, or so I often feel (though part of me knows it isn’t true, that none of us are truly alone or distinctly special).

I don’t like screaming across a void, drowning out dissenting opinions, listening only to the comforting echo of my own voice as it bounces back to me. That’s not where humanity lies, that’s not where happiness and progress flourish. It’s in conversations over coffee with an open heart and mind that humanity finds the fuel to keep on keeping on; it’s listening and processing those things that we feel strongly against that we can build our own castles, using each word and idea to strengthen who we are or reevaluate where we are headed.

This, I often feel, is a strength of the internally minded, the introverted thinkers who process the world around them while others are busy diving head first into an issue (however bravely). We can coax out the similarities from beneath the anger and the defensiveness as the world builds walls out of harsh words and difference –assuming we can step outside of ourselves long enough to interact. Turn that self-evaluation outward and remind those around you that shouting something doesn’t make you right and insulting someone doesn’t make them listen. TC mark

Image Credit: Jessica F

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