Introverts

This appears to be my summer of reading …

I just started reading two books on a similar subject – introverts.

The first book is titled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain (for a 20-min overview of her book, you can watch her excellent TED talk here – http://on.ted.com/Cain ). I will also be reading “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture“, by Adam McHugh, at the same time for a more “Christian” perspective.

The reason I sought out these books is because I consider myself an “introvert” (no, that is not a bad thing – and it cannot be defined in a simple, single way) and have at times felt the need to change who I am in order to fit in with a culture that seems to value expressiveness, emoting and outward displays. I felt, intuitively, that changing myself wasn’t necessarily an ideal thing to do, but the pressure to conform is always there.

Cain goes to great depth to show that since the early 1900’s, our culture has been obsessed with what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal”. Quoting Warren Susman, she states that we have shifted from a “Culture of Character” to a “Culture of Personality”; in other words, our society seems to believe it is not so important who you are “in secret”, but rather how you appear to others. The perception you give others is seen as more important than how you act in private.

Outgoing, talkative people are seen as more trustworthy and their ideas are more likely to be followed – despite the fact there is no evidence to suggest their ideas are better than a soft-spoken person’s. We value showmanship over substance.

This preference has gone so far that many people who are further toward introversion on the personality continuum are made to feel that being an introvert is a problem that must be fixed – that they would be more fully alive if they could simply “put themselves out there” a little more.

The church is not immune to this preference. As Cain states, many Christians wonder “how to fit in as an introvert in a church that prides itself in extroverted evangelism”. She also continues by showing that most everything in our “modern” services involves expressiveness and public response (corporate singing, public greetings, preaching, etc…).

“It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly … many evangelicals come to associate godliness with sociability.” (Cain)

As I think about this (a very ‘introverted’ thing to do), I believe there are things introverts need to teach themselves in order to engage more frequently with a community of people – and I personally have pushed myself toward these things on a frequent basis. Community is an essential part both of life and of our relationship with God, but that does not mean we need to pretend to be extroverts and embrace everything we are asked to do.

At the same time, there are many qualities and traits that it would be wise for an extrovert to learn from their introverted peers. These include like valuing authenticity over charisma, thinking things through and embracing mystery instead of certainty. These things are also at the core of knowing God – who himself took time to escape the crowds and gave illustrations comparing an extroverted Pharisee to a humble “sinner”.

None of this is to say that either personality type is superior; they are simply different. Both types are needed and research seems to show that often the best partnerships are forged when introverts are enabled to pursue their strengths and extroverts are enabled to pursue theirs as well (think of Moses and Aaron).

The balance is an incredibly powerful combination.

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One thought on “Introverts

  1. I’ve got Susan Cain’s book in my reading list too. I was always struck by how Anglican services in particular appeal more to introverts with the room they include for reflection, silence, etc.

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