My dear friend Helena pointed me to a post on EcoSpace that talks about introversion in a world that favours group-oriented personalities (the discussion threads following that article are quite interesting too, talking for example about the relationship between introversion in relation to activist groups, Aspergers or the lack of community).
Humans are social animals, so the cliche goes, yet according to Michael Lopez’ post maybe 25% of the Western population might lack the quality of group-orientation. That does not mean equal distribution throughout social groupings; I could imagine that artists, philosophers or political activists would have a larger share of introverts than let’s say CEOs of large organisations. As an overall figure though a quarter of the Western populace is a sizable minority.
In terms of understanding group and non-group oriented people, looking at language helps. Social and individual attitudes, behaviours and expectations are expressed in and reinforced by language: ‘outgoing’ and ‘sociable’ versus ‘shy’ and ‘anti-social’, ‘overbearing’ and ‘shallow’ versus ‘thoughtful’ and ‘personable’. Such ‘meaning’ contributes greatly to maintaining the structural imbalance between the majority of extroverts and socially oriented people and the minority of introverts who in one form or another experience devaluation, marginalisation and silencing.
People caught in the latter group often react with passive resistance, self-exclusion and/or feelings of coerced adaptation of group-type behaviour patterns. The problem with adaptation is that people do not take on the real qualities of mimicked personality type but play out what they think is this type, an assumption that often is negative (eg ‘shallow’ and ‘overbearing’). Adaptation in these cases will not lead to real change and growth but instead to exhausting and resentful copying, reinforcong the negative image the introvert has in his/her mind about the extrovert.
This reinforcement most likely will be enhanced by the feeling of having been coerced into adaptation in the first place because the majority socialiser culture does not recognise and respect the space the minority introverts occupy; it’s the alienation, discomfort, or dissatisfaction they experience that forces the non-group oriented people to adapt.
All of this suggests an obvious even though potentially idealistic solution: mutual acceptance. Societies and their sub-groups and communities need to create spaces for both forms of personality types to interact – spaces that are being regarded as equally valid. One-to-one interactions (the introvert’s preferred form of social interaction) would be seen as equally relevant, important, functional, productive and creative as the gatherings of the highly extrovert social. And where both personality types come together, space needs to be made for each to be able to unfold and to learn from one other.
Of course, the probability is low that either will be able to comfortably become the other, but learning, amongst other things, is about expanding one’s skill set and therefore adapting in the true sense of the word: by openly embracing challenges as seeds for personal growth. For the introvert learning to some extend what it feels to be an extrovert and vice versa for the extrovert will be enriching for the individual and our species in general.
One strategy for supporting us to become more respectful of ‘the other’ and to learn to integrate some of his/her personality traits into our own is to become more aware of ourselves, of ‘my self’. How? By beginning to be right here and now, observing oneself in every moment, or as Helena said: ” … focusing on being present to this particular moment at hand and responding from that place of presence. That’s all. Anything else other than being present is just extraneous mind chatter.” It’s a way not so much of introspection but of centredness. It gives us a choice to respond naturally to our environment, a choice ascending from a calm self-confidence, without hubris or fear, and it opens us up to let in other forms of expression and being. Simply being in the moment beats all other strategies of change, from from cognitive-behavioural to socio-political. It’s not easy to achieve that state of equilibrium but it probably is the most succesful way for us grow, to mature and to build a world in which difference becomes appreciated as an ingredient to enrich life and therefore our own selves.