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A Little Talk on How to Take Care of Introverts
We are facing a problem—a big problem. A group of our people is regularly oppressed by its surroundings. Oppressors suppress daily the very identity of these people by claiming to prepare them for the “real world”—a concept constructed by these very oppressors, causing the vicious cycle to pervert on without end. We’ve seen this pattern many times in history: a society dominated by Whites that regularly deny Blacks’ basic human rights, a society dominated by men that regularly deny women’s rights to succeed, and a society dominated by straight people that deny the LGBTQ community’s rights to live out their very own identity. Who should we target next?
Estimated to make up a quarter to half of the world population, this group of people exhaust their energy simply through social interactions. And yet we as a society continuously force them to do so, burning them out one by one until none are left. A tragic result indeed.
Well, it’s unfair to say they are our next victim. Our tyranny began as early as construction of the educational and occupational systems, both of which strongly favor extraverts. We ask the introverts to participate in team sports in the name of fostering teamwork to achieve higher results, even though they can be equally or more competitive in solo sports; we create in-class participation points to award students that speak a certain number of times, not knowing that introverts’ participation in the class discussion is most meaningful at its lack of quantity because of how much time and thought they put into each individual comment. We then build a career world upon a fascinating foundation called “networking” in which rather than the work we do, apparently the people that we know qualify us for desirable jobs.
As if this isn’t enough, we also apply pressure on them to be with people and be “sociable.” Back in high school, I used to make every effort to sit with people during lunch to present myself to the terrifying teenage crowd as “not-a-loner.” Whenever I sat alone, every person that walked by me would glance at me briefly—their eyes lingering just long enough to note my lack of company—and I immediately felt judged for not having companions to sit with. For most of the four years, I sat with people I wasn’t particularly close to, talked about things that didn’t particularly matter, and wondered why I couldn’t just sit alone and catch up on the news on my phone or something—that would have been way more productive than socializing. I did have friends though—great friends that sadly could not offer their company to erase my insecurity sometimes—but it seems as if a person sitting alone during lunch is automatically coined with the impression of having no friends. Lunch was always a stressful time for me, and I hated it for this reason. I used to have nightmares every now and then about it, until I had an epiphany and finally realized that lunch was, in essence, just a place to belong and not really belonging.
And in the terrifying teenage crowd’s eyes, it was not “cool” to be alone.
And sure, there are people who genuinely enjoy socializing with others during lunch. Good for them, I’m happy for them, though I can’t quite understand the joy of trying to keep food in my mouth and uphold a conversation at the same time—it all seems too stressful.
But anyway, it’s time to put an end to this injustice. Facing a problem this complex, I propose we begin by stopping ourselves from jumping straight to conclusions. When we see people chilling by themselves in avoidance of a perfect opportunity to socialize, instead of deciding “Oh! That person must be a loner!”—which isn’t typically the case—we should think of other reasons, or just leave them alone and accept that voluntarily choosing not to socialize is just as normal as voluntarily choosing to keep food in one’s mouth and uphold a conversation at the same time. And surprise, sitting alone does not indicate whether they have friends. In fact, some introverts choose to sit alone even though they see their friends in the dining hall because they need some personal space to recharge the energy they have exhausted earlier from socializing. Introverts’ lack of sociability does not mean they are anti-social; they simply socialize in different ways. The noise level in the background, the number of people in the conversation, the type of conversation—all of these can affect an introvert’s sociability, which we typically fail to notice.
Along with changing our expectations of introverts, we should also accept that introversion is not an abnormality. Instead, we should treat it as something as normal as gender, or skin color—as part of who introverts are as people. (Would you judge someone just because they have darker skin than you? If you would, that’s messed up.) Further, introverts do not necessarily choose to be introverts and they each handle it differently. While some introverts enjoy being alone more than anything, others enjoy small group conversations. And still others prefer to socialize with larger groups just like the extraverts, but for shorter periods of time. We should accept all of these socializing styles as normal, since socializing does not have a universal right way—even extraverts have different socializing styles, but I don’t see anyone judging them for it.
Lastly, we should not force introverts to be who they are not. This may be difficult since the favoring of extraversion is so deeply rooted in our society, but we can begin with smaller changes like the in-class participation grading system. Many extraverts think out loud while many introverts take a substantial amount of time thinking their ideas through before putting them into words; a grading system based on the quantity of spoken ideas naturally puts the latter at a disadvantage. Therefore, rather than asking for a specific number of contributions to make per class, perhaps ask for at least one comment per student and grade by the amount of contribution they make to the class—with however many comments it takes them to convey their idea.
What many of us fail to notice is that the lack of talent in one area typically signifies the abundance of talent in another; rather than forcing introverts to cultivate their talent in areas they struggle with, how about fostering an environment that can promote their greater talent in other areas? Let introverts do what they do best and they will contribute the most of their potential to the school, company, or society they are in. Sometimes, socialization and teamwork are not the key to success. If we understand this and apply it to our work place, everyone can benefit from this. There will be less groaning from the introverts, and their surroundings will enjoy their higher-quality work from being relieved of social stress.
If by the end of this spiel you still have difficulty sympathizing with or understanding introverts and are wondering why this introvert has so much to say all of a sudden, consider putting a group of extraverts into a room and forcing them to be like introverts and not talk to each other for three or four hours.
…I don’t know about you, but I can only envision sheer misery from each and every one of them.