Our culture says introverts are either shy or self-absorbed. Dictionary.com goes as far as to list “narcissist” as a synonym.
But I think it is time for our culture to bend a little bit and start recognizing those doorway-lurking-book-reading-home-on-Friday-nighters as valuable members of society.
School, work and life, however, tend to cater to and expect extroverts. Because of this, introversion is often misunderstood as a bad thing. It’s time we take a minute to pause and consider how introverts and the world interact with each other.
As a student, I find school to be particularly anti-introvert. From preschool, children are expected to work in groups for many activities.
That can be a problem. I would rather do all the work myself than have to deal with a partner. In a group, I either take control or take a back seat. I find other people to work like this too. They either are too controlling or too lazy. Or they think that green background would look nice in your PowerPoint when you know it will look terrible and have to urge them, not so gently, to reconsider the purple.
Another way school prefers extroverts is by grading class participation. If you don’t read out loud, raise your hand, and ask questions during class, most teachers think less of you.
I’ve had teachers address a classroom of unresponsive kids and claim they all must not know the answer because no one is raising their hand. Probably the kids just don’t feel like being singled out and speaking to the group. Introverts need time alone to recharge. Even school-aged introverts.
Schools, however, cringe at this concept. It’s understandable; a school can’t let kids be wherever in case of accountability. But there are many school days where I just need to escape the constant stream of chattering faces. A bathroom break helps but people would start to look at you oddly if you took a 15-minute bathroom break. Lunch is an ideal time, except for the fact you’re not supposed to leave the cafeteria.
So what’s an overstimulated introvert to do but steal away to an empty classroom or a darkened stairwell during an occasional lunch? Just don’t get caught being too introverted or face the consequences.
A lot of these obstacles occur in the everyday social rigamarole, too. To be happy and satisfied, you need to go, go, go and do, do, do. If you’d rather chill at home occasionally or not have dry small talk, you can be seen as snobbish and rude.
New places are great, but so is your home. New people are great, but so are books. New experiences are great, but so is playing Monopoly. It’s nice to stretch your comfort zone, but comfort zones should be respected too.
One of the best things about introverts is their depth. I’ve been into A Fine Frenzy lately, which is a band that I highly recommend. Her lyrics are perfectly introverted. She reveals enough to catch your ear but leaves enough to make you wonder. The lyrics are cryptically enticing and have that thought-provoking quality most radio music lacks. If a book, song, movie or conversation is still being wrestled about in your head hours later, it was probably worth your while. I find introverts to be like this.
Extroverts are more like a catchy radio tune. They both have their place and time and we love them. I have both types of music on my iPod and I have both types of people in my life, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I think the tiniest introverts have it the hardest, because they cannot yet advocate for themselves. It’s tough to have all sorts of weird adults constantly getting in your face telling you how much you’ve grown, parents apologizing because you’re “just shy,” and other kids having the nerve to be at the playground when you’d like to play by yourself. Society sends the message to these little ones that they are wrong and need to change to better fit our narrow view of acceptable.
It’s about time we change this message. We should tell the little and the big extroverts that it’s OK to be extroverts. We should tell the little and the big introverts that it’s OK to be introverts. We should tell all the littles and all the bigs that it’s OK to be themselves. Nobody’s wrong. What’s wrong is having a culture try to smush itself into a shoe two sizes too small. If we aren’t careful, our blisters will callous and our toes will curl. So next time, be flexible and remember the introverts.
Katherine Ahearn is a junior at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk