This Atlantic article from 2003 (which inspired my title) taught me a lot about myself and, apparently, caused something of a stir when it was first published. According to this follow up piece the author, Jonathan Rauch, received more feedback on that essay than on anything else he had ever written.
From Rauch’s article, I read:
“Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves … Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially `on,’ we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.”
I had this printed on the back of cards that I hand out at events and parties. The front of the card says, The only thing a true introvert dislikes more than talking about himself is repeating himself.
I did not really do this, of course, but if I had I would have added the following guidelines from Rauch’s article:
How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice?
First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation.
Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say “What’s the matter?” or “Are you all right?”
Third, don’t say anything else, either.
I only discovered the Atlantic article last year, and it was a revelation. Suddenly, many things in my life began not so much to seem okay (I wasn’t struggling before), but to make sense. There was an enormous release of what Rauch calls, in a delightful follow up interview, “brain pressure” — a letting go of certain guilt feelings, especially around the holidays. Think about it: all those years of feeling like, while I was at home for Christmas, I should be constantly in the kitchen or den visiting with people when all I really wanted to do was go to my bedroom and close the door. It’s not because I don’t enjoy hanging out with my family, it’s because I’m an introvert!
Or how after every trip to see my family I have to take a sick day to recover. I always felt awful about this, thinking that it was somehow a reflection of how I felt about them rather than simply how I was wired. But in the end it’s not because I don’t love them, or that they make me sick, it’s because I’m an introvert!
I was on a roll, thinking about how at the end of days when I teach three classes in a row all my limbs feel like rubber and I long for nothing more than Beer and Silence; how when I spend ten minutes introducing an exercise in class and then a student looks up with her sad, vague eyes and says now what are we supposed to be doing I have violent visions of jabbing those eyes out with two jumbo pencils; how the thought of small talk makes me want to run and scream and hide; how I find one of the most civilized places on earth to be the Quiet Car on Amtrak; how to some people words like “chit-chat” and “group work” make sense.
I was on the bus the other day, sitting in front of two college students who were talking about their classes. “Fuck group work,” one of them said in a moment of frustration, and I wanted to applaud.
In this recent TED talk, Susan Cain discusses several main principles from her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She elucidates three calls to action at the end of her talk, the first one being stop the madness for constant group work. (For more on this, watch her presentation.)
One of my teaching partners, who knows mostly my performative classroom self, was shocked to learn recently that I am an introvert. Last week she surprised me with my own copy of Cain’s book which, along with her TED talk, is what got me digging anew into these ideas about introversion, and being an Introvert. If nothing else, I am a fan of Susan Cain because she is on a crusade during what she is calling her “year of speaking dangerously.” She’s left her comfort zone far behind and paradoxically entered the fray in order to spread one really important and oft-neglected message: as she says in her talk, Solitude Matters.
Solitude is difficult because of our inability to (and this is her second call to action) unplug. It is difficult given how overwrought we all are with Facebook and Twitter and the twentyfourhournewscycle and, yes, even our blogs. This Washington Post article about Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram calls this online existence the “shadow world in which we delight.” That sentence goes on to say at the expense of our time and productivity. This is only one, particularly narrow way of interpreting our online lives (Rauch, for example, argues that the Internet, or what he says should be called the Intronet, was the perfect vehicle for his article to reach introverts, and for introverts to reach each other). But it starts to get at the idea of such virtual reality as being only so much noise.
Quiet seems to be suggesting an alternate approach, perhaps an antidote, to all the noise (virtual and otherwise) and I can’t wait to read it. Have you read Cain’s book? What are your thoughts?