I’ve started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and it is exactly what I needed right now. Life can become exceedingly more difficult when you start listening to how people say you should be living your life, especially when it’s in conflict with how you actually want to. I don’t just mean majoring in business rather than music. I’m talking about an even more basic level, about who we are individually. Susan Cain talks at length about the extrovert ideal….the Roman Orator, the powerful bravery of our American founding fathers, the modern salesman. It’s particularly frightening to not be an extrovert in our modern culture where fidelity to a company is scare and each individual is always told to “market” themselves. People are becoming less employees and more long term freelancers.
It’s absolutely hard coping with not being an extrovert. I get tired of apologizing for being overly emotional sometimes. I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m somehow naive and childlike because I enjoy beautiful things and daydreaming. I feel bad that I’m a dilettante and can’t focus on doing one thing really well, and that I don’t enjoy the time constraints of a job, or get easily overwhelmed by loud noises and crowds. I wish I could be more outgoing and connect with other people but I just don’t enjoy talking about blase things…”shooting the breeze,” as they say.
There are a myriad of self-help books out there designed to help people just like me “function” and “cope” in life. But anymore I don’t believe that I should have to function or cope. There are things that introverts and sensitive people bring to the table and we should be ok with who we are. Because the thing is, being an introvert or sensitive doesn’t make me self-conscious. It doesn’t make me shy or ashamed. What makes me feel those things is people telling me the traits I do have are somehow worth less than an outgoing gregarious person’s.
This is especially important for women to hear. We live in a very male centered world. So much so, that it is almost impossible to tell which parts of our culture are necessary and which are damaging. For example, there was recently a study done on the effects of having women in special ops teams. The study showed that with women, the team became less effective which, the authors surmised, could lead to more casualties. They cited things like women’s inability to climb high walls without assistance. So yes, here we have an example of a job in which men and women are clearly different and the differences do have terrible real world implications, like death. But the question we should be asking isn’t whether or not women should be on special ops teams. The question we should be asking is how can be design special ops tactics to enhance the abilities of all soldiers, not just the male ones. It is not the women who should be asked to change, it is the human designed constructs that should.
The same could be said for women’s fluctuating emotions. We’re so widely criticized for this ( “A woman can’t be president. What would happen when she’s on her period??”) but at some level you have to think, we’ve gotten a lot done DESPITE our emotions. Maybe they’re not so harmful after all. Maybe sometimes you need to be really nice and sometimes you need to be mean. Sometimes you need to be empathetic and other times you need to be aloof. Despite what some say, being logical and practical isn’t always the best option. Similarly, being extroverted isn’t always the best option, and I’m tired of being told that it is.
John Holt said that school is great at convincing children that they don’t know things they do know. My son is 5 and working at a 2nd grade math level and I don’t think he’s exceptional in any way. If he was in a school setting he would be in Kindergarten and learning how to count and he, like most kids, would be bored out of his mind. That’s because, like most kids, while he KNOWS fairly advanced math, he doesn’t know how to “do school.” He has trouble answering questions verbally because his mind wanders, despite being told many times he doesn’t get the concept of writing your answer on a blank space and instead places numbers randomly all over his paper, and he has to be playing with something to listen efficiently. I give him a list of two and three digit numbers to add and get a paper back scrawled with backwards numbers all over the page. So it takes time for me to sort through each problem,
“Where’s the answer to this one?”
“Oh, here’s the seven and over here’s the three. It’s seventy three.”
In school they would say he’s not ready for this math. What he’s not ready for, is this kind of school.
From now on I’m done with thinking there must be something wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with how I do things, there’s nothing wrong with how my son visualizes math, there’s nothing wrong with a woman being president, and there’s nothing wrong with introverts. This isn’t relativism, it’s just accepting that the world tells us a certain kind of person is the best kind, and that is incorrect. Just flat out, incorrect. We can all bring something valuable as long as we are given the freedom to work out the problem in our own way and we have the insight to be able to explain it. Stop trying to overcome and just be unapologetic.
“It is only that people are far more different than is pretended. All over the world men and women are worrying because they cannot develop as they are supposed to develop. Here and there they have the matter out, and it comforts them. Don’t fret yourself, Helen. Develop what you have; love your child. I do not love children. I am thankful to have none. I can play with their beauty and charm, but that is all – nothing real, not one scrap of what there ought to be. And others – others go farther still, and move outside humanity altogether. A place, as well as a person, may catch the glow. Don’t you see that all this leads to comfort in the end? It is part of the battle against sameness. Differences – eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow, perhaps, but colour in the daily grey.” -Howards End