x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Shhhh ... extroverts are drowning out a valuable point of view

Introverts are not missing out on anything; they are just being themselves. It's too bad that the world is not more forgiving of those who are quiet and reflective.

It is a blessing to live in a world where people are so different in character and personality. Some are pleasant, some not and some just make the world a little more interesting.

And then there is another group. We all know at least one member, a work colleague who is always too buried in his or her job, or someone we remember from school days as always hiding in the comfort of his own company. Perhaps it is a young teenage relative so pathologically shy about socialising, even with family members, that she might burst into tears anytime she is pushed to enter a crowded room.

People such as these have always been around, under many labels. People call them "reclusive" or "unsociable" or "shy" or just "quiet". Whatever we call them, we all know some of them very well.

Unfortunately, as quiet individuals, they are living in a world that sees their qualities as "weak".

The world tends to demand that these people change their ways and learn how to approach others, situations and communication methods differently. They need to be audible and visible, they are told, so they won't be overlooked.

In essence, they are living in limbo until they emerge from their "shells" - but they cling to those shells, because inside them is where they find a feeling of safety.

Recently I stumbled upon a book by Susan Cain titled Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.

In writing this book, Cain has made an enormous and generous effort to explain the many complex elements that can make an individual an "introvert", and she backs up her explanations up with scientific data.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, "introvert" is not a technical or scientific term. What it means is that such a person can accept only a low amount of stimulation from the human environment.

An introvert can't stand an overly busy situation, such as having to deal with a large number of people at once. So of course, a crowd can stress most introverts.

Such people work best when they are mostly alone. That's why a large number of them prefer solitary professions, including writing, for example - vocations that do not demand a lot of human-to-human interaction.

That also explains why most introverts prefer to have a few very close friends to hang out with and why they cherish being alone.

Similarly, such people may have trouble taking in large amounts of data from their environment all at once. Multitasking can be very hard for them because they are naturally so immersed in and focused on their work that it's hard to distribute their attention.

Cain's book also deals with extroverts, naturally the opposite of introverts. (In case you were wondering, someone who is equally introverted and extroverted might be referred to as an ambivert.)

Extroverts, as we know, are highly celebrated in most societies - but not all. In parts of Asia including China, Taiwan and Korea, qualities associated with introversion can be celebrated in society.

But people do tend to admire those who are sociable, outgoing, energetic, dominant, assertive, bold, thick-skinned and so on. There is nothing wrong with that, but we have reached a point where if you can't "market yourself" properly, you don't stand a chance in this loudmouth world. That is just a sad truth.

We should all make an effort to accept the introverts who make up 30 to 50 per cent of the population. Their qualities are not "weaknesses" but rather are something that require a different approach.

This is true for schools, workplaces and even in relationships. Introverts face a challenge in trying to fit into a world that is so perfectly suited to extroverts.

Introverts are not missing out on anything; they are just being themselves. It's too bad that the world is not more forgiving of those who are quiet and reflective.

 

Fatma Muhammed Al Ardhi is an art gallery owner based in Muscat