I was looking through some photographs from my childhood with my girlfriend earlier today. One is of the day of my first holy communion. This religious rite of passage tends usually happens when a child is 7 or 8. But my mother, in her wisdom, decided that I would do it a couple of years early. As a result, I had my first holy communion with boys and girls from my school who were older than me and were not my friends. No big problem here, you might imagine. But I am actually a quite introverted person and a shy child, and I remember to this day that the experience was torture for me. All the memories came flooding back on seeing a group photo from the day where my face is a picture – signalling for all the world to see how much fun I wasn’t having.
I came across this very interesting article today published on-line in the Scientific American. It features the ideas of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. In the article, Susan makes the point that our society is set up to reward bold, extrovert individuals. As a result, introverts can sometimes feel the need to make themselves seem more extrovert than they are, and Susan claims that ‘… whenever you try to pass as something that you’re not, you lose part of yourself along the way.’
There’s much information in this article that really resonates with me. For example, I am the sort of person who much prefers a one-on-one dinner and the conversation that goes with it than a full-on party. It’s not so much that I don’t like groups, it’s more that I prefer more intimate environments. I also, like Susan and other introverts, really enjoy time on my own. For example, I can quite happily spend two or more days on my own writing without ever growing bored or lonely.
Another part of the interview I found really interesting concerned group-work. Here’s an extract from the piece:
When you’re working in a group, it’s hard to know what you truly think. We’re such social animals that we instinctively mimic others’ opinions, often without realizing we’re doing it. And when we do disagree consciously, we pay a psychic price. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
This would at least partly explain why I have a dislike of meetings. And the ones I go to rarely have more than two other people present.
It turns out that about one third to a half of us are introverts. And the article lists a few notable human introverts too, including Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Larry Page (co-founder and CEO of Google). Maybe it’s true that ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’.