[By Kyle Iman]
The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:18 that “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”. While speech, confidence, and sociability are all valuable traits for a person to have, I believe nothing gives a greater indication of one’s knowledge than the volumes one speaks in silence. At home and in school, we were (and still are) taught many things: stranger danger, surviving the politics of human relationships, which foods are good or bad, and many others. However, if one thing sticks out above all others, it is knowing how to pick one’s battles in conversation and oration; in other words, knowing when to speak up and when to keep your mouth shut. This, I believe, is one of the most useful skills one can possess in work, daily life, and indeed, the world. And few are so gifted at this as introverts.
The concepts of introversion and extraversion, while not originated by him, were popularised by Carl Jung, one of the greatest psychological minds of all time. They were further developed by Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, resulting in the creation of the now-famous psychometric questionnaire, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which attempts to classify humans into psychological ‘types’ (think of it as similar to classifying people into right or left-handed, except on a deeper level). Two of the listed types are introversion and extraversion, which of course are binary opposites of each other.
Now, I do not profess to be an expert in psychology, nor does this article attempt to be an academic review of the field. However, it is interesting to discuss what we generally accept to be introversion and extraversion, as the definition varies from culture to culture, and indeed, from person to person.
The dictionary definition of ‘introvert’ is, quite simply, ‘a shy person’, while ‘extrovert’ is defined as ‘an outgoing, gregarious person’. However, if you are looking for a more modern interpretation of the words, the Urban Dictionary is your best friend. I find that this pop-culture and slang fuelled website, while crude and offensive at times, speaks with more wit and honesty than can be found in your average dictionary, and is thus a great resource if you wish to understand how modern society really feels about an issue. The Urban Dictionary defines ‘introvert’ as ‘a person who is energised by spending time alone’, while ‘extrovert’ on the other hand is defined as an ‘a****** who doesn’t know when to shut their g****** mouth’. Classy.
Surprising, isn’t it? The archetype of the extrovert is generally presented as the sociable, all-achieving student-cum-rockstar; captain of the debate club, football team, mixed martial arts club and what have you, while that of the introvert is generally presented as the geeky bespectacled kid who buries his or her nose in romance novels, is bullied often and whose habitat is the library, hipster cafes, and the friend zone. So what has brought about this change in perceptions of the two types?
Before we go any further though, I feel a moral obligation to state that there is nothing wrong with being either an introvert or an extrovert, any more than there is anything wrong with preferring burgers over fish and chips. They are both simply different ways of experiencing the world, and no one type is superior to the other.
Recently I have noticed that introverts are gaining more and more recognition thanks to their products more than anything else. As I said at the beginning of this piece, introverts are especially skilled with affecting change without physically saying a word. Music, poetry, art, and writing are all tools with which the introvert wields their invisible authority. This is not to say that extroverts are not artistic; introverts just tend to rely more heavily on this aspect of their personality than extroverts. Extroverts on the other hand tend to have a ‘heart-on-their-sleeve’ kind of mentality where they are comfortable expressing themselves in person, enabling them to make more friends easier and quicker. However, this may also result in a sense of shameless honesty where they are unafraid of saying what is on their minds, which can actually be a valuable trait in many situations, but could be interpreted the wrong way in others. This is but an attempt to provide a possible explanation as to why public perception of the two types is gradually shifting: the introvert is seen as the ‘underdog’, while the extrovert is seen as the loud giant which everyone is just tired of seeing win all the time.
However, I believe that such perceptions are wrong, as these classifications are not monolithic; one can be an introvert and still be able to socialise effectively, while one can be an extrovert and enjoy time alone. For example, Adolf Hitler, who was an introverted, shy, and unbelievably talented artist in his youth, would go on to become one of the greatest orators in the history of the world (his various atrocities notwithstanding). I myself, while identifying as an introvert, am perfectly comfortable with having conversation with anyone who is willing to converse with me. Humans are far better off taking the best of what others have to offer and learning from those, rather than comparing and competing by relentlessly insisting that ‘my horse is bigger than your horse’. In an ideal world, introverts and extroverts would act as supports for each other, not rivals. And just imagine what kind of successes, what kind of peace we could achieve if we could just make that one simple thing a reality.
The Myers-Briggs Foundation, 2014