The north and south of who we are

May 22, 2021

The introverts of the world do better by recharging themselves in solitude and quiet places, which can include the green hills of Africa. This view of an extinct volcanic crater is at Lake Kyaninga, in western Uganda.

Thomas Froese

Know thyself … Socrates

Today let’s imagine you’re a Wall Street lawyer. Your towering New York office overlooks the Statue of Liberty. You’re high powered, enjoy your colleagues, and like asking those lawyer-like “what if” questions. You’re successful. What would ever make you leave?

While you think about that, let’s travel to the Liverpool bar where thousands of Brits recently celebrated without masks or care in the name of pandemic science. Did you see the news photos? Prove you’re vaccinated and come on in. It’s okay. Really. Get close. Dance. Mingle. Let’s show the world that we’re nearing the end of this hellish pandemic tunnel.

My dog, a hopeless socialite, would love such a party. “Hey camera guy!” she’d bark. “Over here!” And someone like Albert Einstein, among history’s better-known introverts? Not so much. I’d be happy to show him to some quieter place, overlooking, say, the green hills of Africa.

This is the north and south of who we are. Some of us need solitude to recharge ourselves. Others need people. It’s your orientation, not a choice. There’s nothing to fix. Introverts especially should be given their due. Yes, they enjoy less interaction, but they find more meaning in it. They may have fewer friends, but they’re closer. They like working alone, but often see things others don’t. They think before speaking. Many are fine leaders.

Elon Musk, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling and Emma Thompson are a few introverts out there. And while extroverts outnumber them – possibly, by some estimates, 2:1 – there’s that bark factor. Extroverts are louder, so it seems there are more. Of course, we’re idiosyncratic, each of us, a blend as unique as your fingerprint. We might adapt, somewhat, if needed. Even so, billions of introverts walk the planet.

And this is no small deal. Because while we commonly hear how our lives are shaped by gender or race or social class, it’s our inborn wiring – and how we align or don’t align ourselves to this inborn bent – that’s also profoundly important for our work and relationships and well-being. It’s exhausting, after all, trying to be someone you’re not.

Further, if one group of dogs – you know the ones – set cultural expectation of what’s normal, or desirable, never imagining there might be a different way to live, that’s a problem. Tell this to my own dog and you’ll only get a blank stare. Extroverts rarely think about these things.

So you’re that New York lawyer. Imagine enjoying the success. For years. Until you don’t. Not really. Not fully. You realize you’re actually living in a sort of foreign land. Like summer camp. Or middle school. You’re there, but you’re not. It’s all interesting (foreign lands usually are), but you’re envious. Jealous.

While your colleagues envy lawyers litigating in the Supreme Court, you envy former classmates who’ve gone on to psychology and writing. Yes, while jealousy can be an ugly emotion, it does tell the truth. Used well, it’s like a compass in the forest of life.

So you leave law for more time with your family. And you write a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking. This is the story of Susan Cain. Her book, which looks at the social science on these matters, remains a benchmark.

You don’t need to be Einstein to get it all. You do, however, need to understand Einstein’s thoughts on it. “Everybody’s a genius,” he once said, “but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”

So don’t ever try to fix anyone who’s a quiet spirit. They’re fine. And if you’re the quiet one, just let those other dogs bark and yelp. You’re fearfully and wonderfully made. Remember young Rocky Balboa, why he loved the exceptionally quiet Adrian? What did he say? “She’s got gaps. I’ve got gaps. Together we fill each other’s gaps.” It’s pretty tough to beat that.

As the pandemic withers, these matters are especially relevant. Because as people re-connect, you might think the party is now ending for the world’s introverts. On the contraire. The great sickness has only reminded us, rather painfully, of humanity’s ongoing need for self-reflection. It’s probably why the meek inherit the earth.

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May 22, 2021 • Posted in ,
Contact Thomas at [email protected]


4 thoughts on “The north and south of who we are”

  1. This has made my day as I travel in a bus racing faster than the trees by the road side. They watch us in amazement, wondering why the rush.

    Perhaps these trees too will inherit the earth for their meekness.

    Thanks Prof. I would prefer to be an introvert.

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