Blessed Are the Introverts

I'm an introvert and proud of it. Fellow introverts, come out of your closets (but not your shells), and rejoice, for introverts will inherit the earth! Oh sure, I know most biblical translations of Matthew 5:5 say, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," but my paraphrase reveals this beatitude's true meaning. First-century Greek, after all, had no words for "introvert" or "cuisine" or "Nintendo." Jesus had to make do with the available lingo.

Latin gave us the word introvertere that means "to turn inward." "Introvert" was then derived by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to describe a personality type focusing thoughts and interests inward. The introvert's opposite is an extrovert.

Extroverts and introverts don't trust each other. Extros view intros as detached, indifferent, shy, retiring, aloof, and cold. Intros view extros as shallow, babbling, boring, manipulative, and arrogant. Assuming everyone functions with the same psychological engine causes misunderstandings. Diesel engines don't run on gasoline, and extros operate differently than intros.

Extroverts find self-fulfillment through applause and attention from others. They dream of being movie stars or sports heroes. They become social workers, politicians, and CEOs. They are natural leaders who love networking, power struggles, and hostile takeovers.

Introverts find self-fulfillment through independence and solitary activities. They dream of being independently wealthy so they can pursue their own interests. They thrive in the silence of libraries and forests. They like solving word puzzles and particle physics equations. Introverts don't dance at parties, don't speak up in class, and don't play office politics (and consequently don't get dates, high grades, or promotions).

Spiritually inclined introverts attend churches in which they can anonymously worship God. Really religious introverts live alone in deserts and eat lizards. Extroverts attend churches for the social contacts. Really religious extroverts start their own churches.

Introverts' patron philosopher Rene Descartes postulated cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Extroverts pervert this primary principle into oro ergo sum (I talk, therefore I am). Intros think before they talk. Extros talk before they think. Ask extros, "Should Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative apply to intelligent extra-terrestrial life forms?" They'll instantly reply "yes" or "no." Ask intros, "What do you want for breakfast?" They'll reply, "I'd like to think about it." Pondered pancakes are better than half-baked philosophy.

Introverts aim and analyze. Extroverts intuitively shoot from the hip. Intros carefully read the operating instructions to their VCR. Extros leave the instructions in the box.

Extros often have dogs for pets, and intros have cats. These animals reflect the traits of their masters. A dog sociably licks your hand and jumps on you. A cat may decide to allow you to live in the same house with it.

Intellectual and emotional depth differentiate human from beast. Extros have as much psychological depth as an onion's skin, but intros are onion all the way down.

Even though extros accuse them of having no feelings, introverts' emotions actually run deeper than those of extroverts. Intros cherish joys longer and grieve losses longer, but they only reveal their feelings to close friends. Extroverts, in contrast, blurt their feelings to strangers.

Intros don't seek advice and resent unsought advice given by well-intention bystanders. Extros seek and give advice freely. Regrettably, extroverts with ulterior motives sometimes seek advice from introverts. Mary, who had the voice of a fingernail caressing a chalkboard, needed help in repairing the damage from multiple bad choices. In a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy she asked me what to do about the problems she continued to create for herself, but she never allowed me to respond. Had I been a seat-belt test dummy, she still would have talked at me. Occasionally, when she paused for breath, I injected a bit of advice, but she never followed any advice I gave her. Why did she bother asking? She was just sucking down emotional support as if it were oxygen; thinking about possible solutions was irrelevant to her.

Additional hazards can befall introverts. I often have felt social pressure to act more like an extrovert. Well-wishing extroverts sometimes want to "break introverts out of their shells." However, turtles will stick their necks out when they want to, not because someone is goading them with a stick. Shells provide identity, beauty, stability, structure, and protection. Turtles with broken shells die. One of my friends with a psychology degree sees one of his life's missions to be stuffing extroverts back into their shells--for their own good.

On the other hand, although it's easy to view introversion and extroversion as polarized opposites, people actually fit in a spectrum somewhere between the two extremes. Although we use our dominant traits in most situations, we can use latent traits from the other side when needed. Extros taking a calculus exam must act temporarily like introverts. They must think hard and not engage in idle chatter with their neighbors, or else they will fail the exam. Intros meeting their future in-laws need to mimic extros and be as charming as possible.

Although people generally stay one dominant type, their precise position on the spectrum changes during their lives. Moving toward "omniversion," developing both sides of one's personality, increases the richness of choices and experiences. Developing complementary social skills and psychological depth balances one's life.

Extros and intros are not always locked in combat. Friendships cross the battle lines. Complementary traits attract (and prove maddening) in both friendship and love. Many extros and intros even marry each other and live to tell about it.

Intros and extros can learn from each other. Introverts don't throw good parties. Extroverts can't program their VCRs. Some might say intros and extros need each other.... Nah. We intros are going to inherit the earth, so who needs them?

Enough talk. Now we need to think about whether we intros really want the earth or not.

Copyright 1994 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published in Sunlight Through the Shadows International Electronic Magazine (April 1994) and reprinted in Mensa Bulletin (June 1995).

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