Bear: Keep it down, I’m introverting
July 4, 2018
Extroverts are like gumball machines. Every thought in their head drops onto their tongue and comes flying out of their mouth if you keep turning their crank. Introverts are more like lotto machines. They'll tell you six of the 49 thoughts tumbling around in their head if they think you're invested, and if you are you'll win the jackpot — their friendship, which is the most valuable thing they can give you.
I've been told all my life that I'm too quiet, although it's usually presented to me in the form of a question, like "Why are you so quiet?" as if it's something I'm not aware of, or a character flaw I should try to change.
The worst thing about being an introvert is that we are easily misunderstood. Many people wrongly interpret our silence as shyness, unfriendliness, or worse, as arrogance. Shyness is the fear of social interaction, which is not the same thing as introversion. The main difference between extroverts and introverts is how we process information. Introverts observe, reflect and use caution before speaking, which often is mistaken for hesitation.
People are surprised to learn that famous performers like Johnny Depp and Beyonce are introverts. But acting and singing are performances, and introverts are as capable performers as extroverts. I can easily sing and play for a room full of people because I've memorized lyrics and I rehearse, but please don't ask me to give an impromptu speech. Words are like apples at the farmer's market to me — I choose them carefully, which is probably why I'm a better writer than speaker.
Starting a conversation with an introvert is kind of like landing an airplane — it's all about the approach. Introverts have little interest in empty chitchat or idle gossip. They prefer higher forms of communication, like ideas and philosophies. I recently had a roommate who also was an introvert, and we joked that when we met in the kitchen for coffee each morning, it took us a mere 5 seconds to begin solving all the world's problems.
Introverts are like icebergs: What you see is only about 10 percent of their total substance. More than 75 percent of people with IQs above 160 are introverts, but our Zen-like focus prevents us from being good multi-taskers. If an introvert is working, they aren't talking or listening; and if they're talking or listening, they aren't working.
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Extroverts can be useful to us introverts. We like to feed them our ideas and then stand them up in front of people to communicate those ideas. We even let them take the credit, because it matters more to us that our ideas are heard than to receive any personal acclaim. We also know that extroverts are great at motivating people, which is why they make good CEOs, sales persons, preachers and politicians.
Comedian Billy Crystal, a self-proclaimed introvert, said he always gets asked if he was the class clown in high school. He says no, that he was the class comedian. "Remember that kid who ran naked across the football field at the Homecoming game? That was the class clown. I was the class comedian — I'm the one who talked him into doing it."
Jeff Bear is a copy editor for The Aspen Times.
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