Being alone in the crowd
Posted by shannonclark on August 27, 2008
This evening I had the pleasure of reading an article in the New Yorker about Garrett Lisi whom I’ve met (and whom friends of mine are friends of, I’d say I’m just someone he’s met though I suspect we are kindred spirits of a sort) He spoke at this year’s TED conference (which many friends of mine attended) and then also spoke at and joined us at the BIL conference which I helped to organize.
It still makes me feel a bit surprised to read about people Ive met in the pages on the New Yorker, but that’s not the point of this post, rather it is a two-fold example from the article which illustrates how Introversion is misunderstood. As I’ve noted before, I’m neither an Introvert nor an Extrovert but rather fall towards the middle of the spectrum, but I have a great deal of sympathy for the problems faced by Introverts in our society.
In the article the reporter notes that Garrett is an INTP on the Myers-Briggs personality profile, a classification which he feels fits him well. The I in that profile stands for Introvert.
But it was the following quote later in the article which I think shows the common misunderstanding of what Introverts are like.
It is hard to meet Lisi without wondering why someone with so many social gifts, someone who so palpably enjoys the company of others, would choose to isolate himself so thoroughly.
Uhmm I think we have a misunderstanding here.
It is not, as people might commonly assume, that someone who is introverted does not have social skills or even gifts, but rather that they are someone who draws energy from being alone, from inward thoughts. Introverts can indeed do well in social environments, but unlike an extrovert after a whie they likely would be drained in the process, rather than gaining energy from the company other others they likely find it tiring. Not impossible, just not always easy.
This is just a small example of a more common problem – popular culture here in the US at least – celebrates the extroverts and extroverted activities. The model of life is to be gregarious, social, to spend time amongst large numbers of people. It is typically assumed that most people will find it easy to enjoy themselves in environments such as bars.
On a more personal level pop culture would have us believe that dating is at least reasonably easy, that somehow being single for even just a few weeks is a shockingly long and strange occurance. And further that at least the young will have had many sexual partners and relationships starting at a relatively young age and continueing into adulthood.
But that is, alas, probably more the case for extroverts than introverts. But pop culture does not usually celebrate the introvert, the rare story about a “hermit physicist” aside.
To put this in very personal terms though I have had a few first dates and fewer second dates, I have not been in a relationship since early 2006. In very stark terms that means I have often gone months at a time with little to no physical contact of any form with another human – interupted by the rare handshake or hug of greeting or on departure. And as I noted I’m neither an introvert nor an extrovert so this prolonged isolation, even while sitting admidst a crowd as I am as I write this in a busy San Francisco cafe, has not be fun and it has been energy sapping.