In Defense Of The Introvert Movement

Flickr / Carmen Jost
Flickr / Carmen Jost

It never ceases to amaze me that whenever generally misunderstood groups of people try to stand up for themselves or simply spread awareness about the thing that makes them different, people sigh in exasperation and assume that said people are demanding some radical change to a system that is oppressing them. So go the critiques of the alleged introvert movement.

I honestly never knew there was an introvert movement until recently (guess I need to get out more), and frankly, I’m still skeptical. However, I have chosen to overlook the far-fetched idea that a large group of introverts would actually rally together into some kind of boisterous pride movement (though a movement made up entirely of people who don’t make small talk could actually be really effective). Instead, I will for argument sake assume the introverted activists’ guilt—that introverts like myself just think we’re better than everyone and like to write about it because we want to tell the world non-verbally.

I will not try to deny that I have ever acted slightly jaded or smug, or that some introverts might act this way all the time, but the more stories I see with headlines like, “21 Reason I’m Tired Of Hearing About Introverts,” the more I think of religious evangelicals who loudly and publicly ask, “Why do secularists have to shove their way of thinking in our faces by talking about their lack of faith?” You can probably think of other hypocritical claims that are equally lacking in perspective, but it’s the same notion. “Why do I have to hear about other people’s unconventional qualities? Why can’t they just suck it up and be quiet already?”

Well, here’s why. Introverts — people who expend energy in social settings and regain it either in solitude or with small groups of familiar people — do generally have a harder time fitting in. Whether at school, at work, on a date, or at a party, introverts either have to put forth substantially more effort than their extroverted peers, or settle for life on Walden Pond. Does this make us victims of systematic oppression? No, but there is a good reason why we feel the need to bring attention to gross mischaracterizations of our personalities–because they make things even more challenging in our day-to-day existence.

Very often, introverts unintentionally give others the impression that we are pretentious and self-important, simply because we’re not good at making idle chit-chat, and when we do get talkative, it’s usually over something that genuinely interests us. This alone is good reason for writing about the nature of the introverted mind. It shouldn’t be surprising that when someone gets called a jerk or a snob just for standing around quietly, they might feel the need to shed some light on how they actually think.

Imagine this scenario: You’re sitting in a bar with a few friends or coworkers. It’s not an obnoxious bar; in fact you like the atmosphere, and you’re thoroughly enjoying a tasty beverage as you sit comfortably, just listening to the conversations around you or watching the poker game on the wall-mounted TV. Then one of your colleagues turns to you with a somber look on his face. He says, “Hey man, you seem really bored. You know you can leave whenever you like, right?” Then another one chimes in. “Yeah, he’s an introvert, he HATES places like this.” The first one laughs and replies, “Oh, that makes sense. You know there’s a trendier place around the corner where you can probably hear some slam-poetry, if that’s more your cup of chai.”

Suddenly you don’t know what to do, because now you are uncomfortable, but you don’t want to confirm their preconceived notions that you are a misanthropic recluse or a pretentious elitist. You try to explain that you were not uncomfortable, maybe even preach the Zen-like bliss of comfortable silences, but in all likelihood, it’s not convincing your peers of anything.

It should not be surprising that people who experience situations like this regularly would want to clear things up. Yet, there is a strange mental leap that people make whenever a group tries to correct such confusion. This, to some, equates to a call for radical change.

Take this quote from Michael Hedrick’s piece, “How To Be An Introvert While Thinking The Introvert Movement Is Stupid.” Hedrick, who identifies as an introvert himself, shares the sentiment echoed by other critics of the introvert movement, saying, “My point is, maybe we should save movements, like the one that seems to be going around for introversion for actual horrible problems like homophobia or racism. These are things that actually have to be changed.”

I don’t personally know, nor would I really like to, anyone who thinks that not understanding introversion is a more serious problem than racism or homophobia. So this is really a question of priority. One could just as easily say that ending needless military interventions in the Middle East that result in massive civilian casualties is a more pressing issue than marriage equality. This does not, by any stretch, mean that there shouldn’t be a gay rights movement until world peace is achieved. Just as you can simultaneously be anti-war and pro-marriage equality, you can easily prioritize bigger social problems while still acknowledging that introverts are largely misunderstood people who become justifiably frustrated when they read things like the above statement. Learning to empathize with people who are different from you is never a waste of time.

The big issue here seems to be that when introverts talk about introversion, people think this is somehow a demand that they bend over backwards to make introverts feel respected, or that we are owed some type of reparations for our years of being called the weird kid in school. This is, of course, untrue. Just because you think something ought to be talked about more does not mean that you are crying “oppression” and comparing yourself to Gandhi. It is a strange syndrome that many people feel the need to undermine anything that they can’t relate to, and it is all the more reason to have these discussions. TC mark

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