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It's an extrovert world after all...

This article by Jonathan Rauch in the Atlantic Online has gathered a lot of attention. Judging by its popularity, a lot of people had the same "A-ha!" moment that I did upon reading it. "So I'm not alone?" Someone has accurately and summarily crafted a rallying cry for the introverts of the world, who, if we are to believe the numbers, are outnumbered by about three to one by extroverts. The entire article had me saying, "Um-hum, yup, yes, yippee! That's me," and so on, all the way through.

It has helped me to understand my and others' social interaction in far more meaningful ways. For example, I used to run occasionally with a work colleague. It was irritating me more and more, although she is a lovely person, and I finally realized why: she's an extrovert! For her, the run was valuable social time in which to chatter away about all sorts of related and unrelated topics. I, on the other hand, view running as a solitary exercise, a way to get away from the world, time to recharge after a long day at work, time to delve so deeply into my inner consciousness that at times I barely notice the world around me. Running with her exhausted me mentally as well as physically and was becoming unbearable, until reading that article I understood why and stopped the social runs (as nicely as possible). Doing so has preserved my sanity, and my solitude.

It has also made me realize that introverts and extroverts fundamentally view communication differently. Extroverts talk simply for the sake of talking. Social interaction, to them, is an end in itself and they will happily chatter away about the most mundane and irrelevant aspects of their lives, for hours on end, and feel energized by it. If you are an introvert forced onto the receiving end of this barrage, your eyes and your brain have long since glazed over though you continue to listen politely and even encourage them by conversational murmurs and the occasional question. If they are interesting enough, this can be a life-saver, absolving you of the responsibility to come up with topics to discuss and meaning that you don't have to perform that most introvert-hated of all activities: talking about yourself. If they are uninteresting or excessive, as most extroverts unfortunately are, it is a tortuous experience in which your um-hums and oh-reallys and what-happened-nexts mask an inner soup of mental agony or a private wander into fields of speculation far removed from what they are going on about.

Extroverts thrive on relating ad infinitum the details of their tax problems, their sore foot, their relationship issues, what they are having for lunch. It doesn't matter what it is, if they're thinking about it, an extrovert will blurt it. To any warm body standing nearby. Introverts, on the other hand, prefer communicating on a much more fundamental basis: need-to-know. We like the world of thoughts, ideas, meaning, what we are passionate about. We prefer a conversation to have a starting point, a definite path of navigation which proceeds logically and connectedly from one subject to the next and does not take a jump into neverland every other sentence never to return whence it launched. We want discussion to accomplish something: learning, educating, informing, connecting, forming new thoughts and ideas and fueling one another's mental life. We HATE, and I repeat, hate, talking about ourselves. We find the external details of our lives utterly meaningless compared to the inner issues we face, and dread no question more than those of the variety: "So, how's your job?"

Last night, all of these points were nicely illustrated for me. I went out to coffee with the ladies from my church home group. Recently, the home groups have started meeting separately as men and women twice a month. I viewed this development with dismay, despising as I do women's groups (gaggles of women are exponentially worse than women singly); however, the value of faithfully attending home group has compelled me to participate. Three women were definitely extroverts. Three of us were either introverts or more introverted. The extroverts happily chattered away. The introverts by turns either gave up and watched the fray; or found one conversational partner. At one point the conversation turned to photography, a subject I am interested in. As an introvert, I weighed in to give information on the topic. I was only about halfway through and had a point I was working toward when I was abruptly sidelined by the extroverts jumping in again. The conversation happily continued on with no meaningful conclusion and nobody noticed. The introverts didn't stand a chance.

Ah, well. I'm glad at least we have a framework for understanding this, though I'm afraid that for me social groupings will continue to be either opportunities for silent observation or annoyance at others' verbal prolixity. What can you do, if you're an introvert. However, I prefer it that way: extroverts can have their fun, and I'll take my deep thinking and artistic sensibility, even if it means I'm a little quirky, odd, and even anti-social.

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