I don’t like to talk. Maybe there’s some sociocultural reason for that, or some sort of latent genetic explanation, but for whatever reason, I just prefer being silent. As a general rule, the less attention I attract, the better. I just want to be left alone to work on whatever I’m working on, and the idea of “small talk” just frustrates me to no end. I don’t want to chit-chat, I don’t want to shoot the breeze and I most certainly do not want to know what you think about the weather, for any reason.
Which, in today’s America, makes me “an anomaly,” even though at least half the country feels the exact same way I do. For all the rhetoric we keep hearing about gender binaries and racial dichotomies and socioeconomic inequalities, how odd is it that we never hear anything at all about perhaps the country’s greatest, most apparent form of social stratification: the unstated war between introverts and extroverts?
Extroverts control everything. The loud, outspoken people constantly jockeying to display their “persona” or “charisma” make up virtually all our most powerful politicians, business leaders, Hollywood stars, music icons and sports heroes. In high schools, the most popular students are the ones considered the most jovial, the kind of kids who just LOVE to flap their gums to anybody and everybody who will listen. Meanwhile, the kids who don’t say anything are automatically deemed weirdos (perhaps, even dangerous ones) simply because they’re not running around trying to verbally express how great they and their individual opinions are to everyone within earshot.
Maybe this is just the introvert in me talking, but shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t our culture value the people who keep their opinions to themselves, who never extol their own greatness, who respect the ideas of others, who simply do their job, day-in, day-out, without once pestering anybody at the water cooler and trying to get shit started?
No, that’s simply not the American way of doing things. Rather, we prefer people who are loud and vocal and, frankly, arrogant. We consider the inability to stop promoting yourself not a character defect, but a pivotal social skill. We don’t really care about what people do, it’s more how they project themselves. Their actions mean less to us than their words, which is why the most vocal, self-aggrandizing people usually tend to excel professionally while introverts tend to underperform (and remain vastly underpaid compared to their chirpier, more logorrheic colleagues.)
The very language is biased against introverts. Flip open a thesaurus and find the listing for “extrovert” and you’ll see such positive synonyms as outgoing, sociable, affable, friendly and gregarious. Meanwhile, the literal definition for “introvert” is “a person who retreats mentally,” as if the very state of being introverted is some sort of cognitive defect. And among the cheery synonyms listed for introverts, you’ll find such pleasant fill-ins as brooder, loner, wallflower, autist and – irony of ironies – even “egotist.”
Literally from birth we are taught to be showoffs and exhibitionists. Never shutting up and constantly lording over your peers isn’t considered a bad thing, it’s considered a fundamental life skill. We’re taught that having a “presence” and being able to “control a crowd” is just as important as knowing how algebra works. The social hivemind forces us to accept that being “outgoing” and “the life of the party” is the best thing anyone can be, while being “shy” and “withdrawn” is the absolute worst. And if you think this blatant bias favoring extroverts and working against introverts isn’t manifested in hiring rates and salaries, think again. Not only do extroverts earn substantially more money than most introverts across the board, they sometimes make easily two and a half times as much in the workplace.
I’ll be blunt with you kids. I don’t know the first damn thing about the Myers-Briggs personality tests, so I couldn’t tell you an INFJ from a BLT. But what this lifelong introvert can tell you is that us silent types have been socially shit upon for far too long. I’m tired of all the stereotypes and the culturally conditioned prejudices against me and my kind, and it’s long past time somebody, anybody, came along to dispel the myths about how weird introverts are and how damned dandy extroverts are.
First off, introverts aren’t “shy” or “withdrawn” or “awkward” or – my personal favorite – socially inept. We don’t talk because, simply put, we don’t want to talk and we sure as hell don’t want to talk to you. If you have something worthwhile or important to communicate, we might step in, but if you’re just going to blab on and on about what your dog did over the weekend and what you had for lunch last night and how fat you think the girl down the hall has gotten, why in the hell would you expect anyone to join you in conversation?
Secondly, introverts are, first and foremost, goal-oriented people. If we’re doing a task at work, school or even around the house, our top priority is to get that stuff done. From my experiences, extroverts are much more about loafing around and trying to delay stuff. When it comes time to do heavy duty work, they often expect some delegate to do most of the lifting (although when it comes time to reap the benefits of said hard work, they almost ALWAYS take sole credit for the efforts they just barely participated in.) Shouldn’t society be a little bit happier that there’s still some people out there who care more about doing their job instead of goofing off and playing office politics until it’s time to clock out?
Thirdly – and this should really go without saying – introverts are generally nicer people to be around. They don’t meddle in your affairs. They don’t try to distract you while you’re doing stuff. They don’t try to impart their beliefs and worldviews on you. They don’t want to demonstrate any basic authority and power over you. They’re not obsessed with propagating beliefs about how special they are. They don’t want to change your life and control you in any way. They just want to live their lives, finish their work and go home and talk to people they actually want to talk to. Extroverts – the general egomaniacs they are – usually can’t remain in their own bubble. Almost by nature, they HAVE to get in other people’s business. They HAVE to horn in on every conversation. They HAVE to make every discussion about them. They HAVE to make the prevailing group attitude the same as their own. They HAVE to have all the attention focused on them, and they’ll usually go to any length to ensure the spotlight remains on themselves and absolutely nobody else.
And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, extroverts have no social awareness. Yeah, everybody likes to turn that one on its head, but honestly, most introverts are way more adept socially than their loudmouth counterparts. Extroverts have NO idea how annoying they are, and they don’t understand – and appreciate – the value of silence. Introverts are inherently more social people because they know the significance of NOT talking. Extroverts never listen, because they’re always trying to get the last word in. Meanwhile, since introverts hardly ever control a conversation, they have no choice but to analyze and interpret and cogitate over the ideas and opinions of others. Extroverts speak before thinking, and introverts think and think and think without ever yelling what’s on their mind to the entire world. Now tell me whose ideas and opinions you believe would be more nuanced and insightful.
Maybe U.S. culture will never turn course on this one. This is America, after all, where the platitude “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” pretty much epitomizes our shared perspective on the introvert/extrovert dichotomy. But me? Eh, I think I’ll embrace the Japanese take on the same subject – “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
And I think all of us introverts can agree on that one – there are definitely a lot of extroverts out there whose hammering is LONG overdue.