In 2003, Jonathan Rauch quite literally launched a silent revolution in an Atlantic article titled, “Caring for Your Introvert: The Habits and Needs of a Little Understood Group.” Utilizing psychiatrist Carl Jung’s introversion-extroversion dichotomy, Rauch’s 1,300-word manifesto enumerates a laundry list of grievances of how reserved individuals are “oppressed” by their more outgoing peers. “[E]xtroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through,” the freelance editor, writer, and Brookings scholar bemoans. “Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves.”
While written with a hint of sarcasm, Rauch’s underlying point is completely serious and has practically inspired the very “Introverts’ Rights movement” he calls for in the article. In the decade after its publishing, countless books have been published calling on “Introvert Power” á la the Black Panthers and whining about the “World That Can’t Stop Talking,” to name two examples by Laurie A. Helgoe and Susan Cain. Having befriended and dated a number of self-described introverts, I can anecdotally attest that the movement is all but militarized, with introverts strongly asserting their need for “alone time” when exposed to the inconvenience of being invited to enjoy other peoples’ company.
Joking aside, I think that introverts have become too sanctimonious in preaching the Quiet Gospel. In their quest to attune extroverts to their needs, introverts have unfairly stereotyped their more social peers and taken their company for granted.
Introverts often talk about their need to “recharge” after long stretches of socializing. As Rauch explains, “after an hour or two of being socially ‘on,’ we introverts need to turn off and recharge.” However, the phenomenon of resting is by no means unique to introverts, but is common to the whole human race. Every homo sapiens physiologically needs to sleep, sit, relax, and eat to survive, and all of these activities are often done alone. Furthermore, de-stressing activities like watching television, exercising, reading, playing videogames, or pursuing a hobby are nearly ubiquitous. Sorry, my introverted friends, you’re not the only ones who like to be alone with your thoughts.
As for socializing, introverts should understand that human relationships are a privilege that needs to be nurtured and maintained, not a right that can be exercised and ignored at will. When a friend, family member, or lover invites an introvert out to do something social, they are fundamentally expressing that they value the introvert’s company – a powerful statement. Thus, introverts should tread carefully when they feel the need for alone time instead of socializing.
While any individual, introverted or extroverted, should rightfully deny the invitations of people they do not value (e.g. boring acquaintances, abusive family members, crazy ex-lovers), they should work tirelessly to maintain relationships of people they do value. This does not necessarily mean accepting every invitation from a valued peer that comes their way, but rather demonstrating that their relationship still holds meaning. This can be done by rescheduling plans, changing locations to a more comfortable environment, or maintaining a regular stream of interaction on social media. Nobody should take human relationships for granted, and unfortunately I’ve met too many introverts who do.
Indeed, so many of the problems introverts experience in our noisy world can be easily solved by simply managing a calendar. Some of the most successful people I have met in my life – entrepreneurs, presidents of nonprofits, wealthy businessmen – are self-described introverts. When I’ve asked what’s the key to their success, they’ve almost all answered with excellent time management. Introverts can have all the alone time they need to function by scheduling chunks of time specifically for themselves while balancing the demands of work and social life.
I for one as a self-described extrovert enjoy at least five waking hours of alone time each day by running in the morning, watching television with my dinner, and reading late at night. This routine allows gives me the energy to attend happy hours and parties nearly every night of the week. Consequently, enjoying other people’s company at such social functions affords me plenty of interesting conversation that inspires me to enjoy reading and learning at my own pace when I’m alone again.
Indeed, the most horrendous stereotypes many introverts harbor against extroverts is that we are anti-intellectual airheads who like to party endlessly because we’ve got nothing else to do or think about. To the contrary, I am a proud extrovert precisely because I enjoy the finer things in life. I recognize as an individual I have limited knowledge about the world. Therefore, I constantly surround myself with peers interested in the similar topics as me – respectively, policy, philosophy, art, and music – to learn from and bounce ideas off of. As one fellow extroverted friend told me recently at a karaoke night, “I constantly surround myself with people because I love ideas.” Many introverts would find the same addicting world if only they kept good company and a calendar.