I remember a commercial that made the rounds on the internet a few years ago. I suppose it was more than a few, since it was before Facebook. However, the gist of the advertisement (for beer I think) was a man approaching a crowd in an open-mic situation and beginning a rant. He spoke for about a minute declaring several things about himself, increasing in intensity and volume of speech, until the crescendo had reached its peak where he finished with a very enunciated shout “I. AM. CANADIAN.”
This ad sparked all sorts of parodies, for humor purposes as well as satire. It seemed that every “downtrodden”, ignored or stereotyped class of people who felt they had been disrespected claimed this meme as a vehicle to raise awareness. The reason I bring this up is because I’ve seen several posts and articles swimming around the internet that remind me of this phenomenon. Indeed, I am surprised (although since it was so long ago I probably shouldn’t be) that this ad hasn’t been brought back to life for this very purpose. There is so much similarity. Alas.
You’ve read them, of course. Either that or you’ve ignored them. You may have actually posted one on your Facebook wall. These “How to Feed and Care for your Introvert” articles have been making the rounds. They typically contain instructions on how to treat an introvert, though many of them go beyond simply raising awareness and take on a confrontational tone (yes, insert joke here about the idea of an introvert getting belligerent). I enjoyed reading these when they first appeared, and must confess I jumped on the bandwagon for a while. However, I eventually soured to the idea by several things, and when I took a step back I realized that I may be hurting my cause more than helping. Let me explain:
We don’t need introvert-awareness. We need self-awareness.
I will admit, I am pleased that more and more people seem to be aware of the concept of introversion than 10 years ago. At least we have a name for it. However, I am not certain that the best plan of action is to polarize society into two groups. Indeed, the very idea assumes that the introvert/extrovert factor in human psychology is binary, or even discrete. Psychologists may disagree (and I invite them to do so in the comments), but it seems to me that the scale of introversion and extroversion looks more like a bell curve. If this is the case, then really the vast majority of people fall in the middle, and are really not served by the instructions in these articles. This is why every introvert article is piled high with comments from extroverts saying “hey! I like to be alone too!”. The truth is, this isn’t Us vs. Them.
Many people who know me have heard me say that every adult should be required to take a course in basic statistics. I’m updating that to include a course in interpersonal communications. I fear that too many people pass these articles around because that’s the closest anyone has come to describing their mental and emotional lives. They would be better served if they could look at their own behavior and thinking and say “I feel this way when this happens because…” Granted, making people aware of the introvert/extrovert dynamic goes a long way, but extroverts are not the only unaware ones here. It may be satisfying to post a “hey everybody! This is me! Get over it!” article, but is it really you? Do you understand WHY you feel bullied? Or do you just notice two or three things that seem true about yourself and assume the rest? Even if this article describes you, how does this help you solve the problem? Were you hoping everyone else would just start treating you right because “now they know”? Is there anything you could be doing to help besides telling others what to do?
Hey, I’ve been there. As an introvert, I know the feeling that I’ve spent my entire life adjusting to those around me. It is VERY tempting to swing the other way and expect the world to adjust to ME for once. I used to throw those punches all the time. However, posting someone else’s article doesn’t equate with expressing yourself. You need to know what’s going on in your own head and express it.
Not all extroverts are bullies. Not all bullies are extroverts.
One of my more sobering moments in life was after I had posted one of these introvert articles/infographics. There was, of course, the litany of comments from extroverts saying “hey, stop being so weird and get over it” (summarily deleted), but one comment from a friend struck me. She remarked at how hurtful it was to hear that I viewed her extroversion with such disgust when to her knowledge she had never mistreated me. From that point on, I couldn’t read anything written on the subject without wondering “is it worth it to lash out like this?” It really is a self-awareness issue. Yes, extroverts need to have the awareness of how to interact with introverts with love, but they also deserve the act of love it takes to make them aware. Sure, an extrovert that refuses to listen and act in love is a bully, but an introvert that simply shuts the door in a loved one’s face without explaining anything is showing just as much a lack of love.
And when it all comes down to it… Fed and Cared for? Do I really want to make my case with an info graphic that condescends not only to the people it addresses, but to the person who posted it?