“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy;
but like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”
- Jane Austen
A couple of weeks ago I read the latest edition of our HS Student Council (STUCO newsletter). One of the contributing students included an informal quiz from a book by Susan Cain about being an introvert. I took the quiz. Apparently I am 50% introvert and 50% extrovert. I’m not sure what that says about me. Of course, the quiz was not scientifically based, but it is interesting to consider.
According to the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology (quick tip: read this if you ever have trouble falling asleep), introversion is defined as: orientation toward the internal private world of one’s self and one’s inner thoughts and feelings, rather than toward the outer world of people and things. The same fascinating text defines extroversion as: orientation of one’s interests and energies toward the outer world of people and things rather than the inner world of subjective experience.
There is nothing better about being one or the other. Each simply exhibits different preferences, which is similar to ice cream. Some people like vanilla ice cream, some people don’t.
Though there is nothing wrong with being an introvert, society (at least western society) acts like there is. People who prefer talking with a friend or two instead of being in a big group are sometimes seen as standoffish. Why?
One of the ironies of society favoring extroversion is that so many people revered by society at large are introverts. For example, Albert Einstein, Meryl Streep, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, Sir Isaac Newton, Barack Obama, and Frederic Chopin are/were all self-proclaimed introverts.
People are not just introverts or extroverts--we all fall somewhere on the introvert-extrovert scale. Apparently I am right in the middle, which seems rather boring. It doesn’t matter whether you are more introverted or more extroverted: what matters is knowing and being comfortable with yourself. This is a life-long journey. When I was in Kindergarten, I couldn’t help but notice the attention a friend of mine received--he was far on the extrovert side of the scale. He would do funny things in front of the class and get laughs from other kids, and more than a few reprimands from the teacher, Ms. Salisbury. I was different, but wanted that attention too. I tried one day to do something similarly attention getting, but it wasn’t my style and I failed miserably. At the time, I didn’t really know why I did it. 45 years later, I know that I was trying to be someone I’m not. That doesn’t work.
In education, one of the most powerful things we can do to help young people grow into successful, happy, and healthy adults is to accept and celebrate them for who they are. More importantly, is to help them accept and celebrate themselves for who they are. At the same time, we have to help them shape their actions (behaviorally, academically, socially, etc) to meet community expectations. It is a tricky balance, but it is well worth the effort.
“Quiet people have the loudest minds.”
- Stephen Hawking