Sunday, February 5, 2012

In Defense of Introverts

This post has been a long time in the making, but probably spurs from that night some months ago when I came home from a large gathering where my own social limitations had been particularly obvious to me and said to my husband, “Why did God make introverts!?”

I should probably explain that by “intovert” I am not talking about anti-social unabomber types. I merely refer to those of us who are more private than outgoing, who are more energized by alone time than social gatherings, who prefer small groups of close friends to large parties, who do not rush to answer the phone or door, and who would rather jump off a cliff than host a big social gathering.

This is not to be disparaging to extroverts. In fact, some of my most favorite people are extroverts. We have had good friends over the years who have had us over regularly for social gatherings. These are the kind of people who make small talk easily, and know how to create an atmosphere of hospitality, good food, and conversation. I have watched others who easily take command of conversations, and aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. I have one sister who holds Halloween costume parties and murder mystery dinners at her house, and loves it. I have another sister who is so unembarrassed, comfortable, and energized by the presence of others that she has taken it upon herself to entertain the world—and she does. It was my brother and I, on the other hand, who used to hide in the kitchen when people came to visit (when we were past old enough to know better) and hope we wouldn’t be called out to ‘say hello.’

As I mentioned before, I have been aware of how my introversion limits me. I have been aware of it when different positions over the years required me to plan and host events. I have really had to get outside myself to plan birthday parties and social engagements for my extrovert son. I rarely want to go to church socials (gasp), and I often find that while acquaintances come and go, it takes me a while to make close friends. Introverts are hard to know well.

However, when I came home frustrated by those very limitations those months ago, my introvert husband not only sympathized, but encouraged me to remember the contributions introverts have made in my life. We listed family members, authors, and ecclesiastical and societal leaders who make great contributions through private thoughtful kinds of lives. In a world that values group work and ‘synergy,’ I think it is easy to forget the great value of individual thought—the kind of thinking that, rather than relying on others to fill in the spaces—works through the questions and complications through solitary focus and reflection.

So, I guess my defense of introverts is this: It may be difficult to get to know us, but give us a chance because, quite likely, we are worth knowing.