The quiet advantages of the introvert

By Maral Margossian

Timothy Reilly/ Collegian File Photo
Timothy Reilly/ Collegian File Photo

I hate Mondays. Not only because waking up on Monday mornings is impossible without copious amounts of coffee, it’s the start of a new school week and other conventional reasons one might expect, but because I dread the question “what did you do this weekend?” Inquirers always ask with bright, expectant eyes, waiting to hear my adventures so they can tell theirs. I internally wince and then with feelings of guilt tell them it was a quiet weekend without much excitement. The usual response is the standard, “Oh, that’s nice. It’s good to have a break once in a while,” and the conversation digresses.

Usually, those who ask assume that I spend my normal weekends out with a group of friends. Instead, my normal usually means quiet weekends, not because I am antisocial, but because I am an introvert.

In a culture dominated by clichés like “come out of your shell” and “get out of your comfort zone” little room is left for the introverts. School and work settings are increasingly designed to foster collaborative engagements, tapping into the potential of extroverts, but forcing introverts to have to work in less optimal environments.

To be clear, introverts are those who enjoy spending time alone or with a small group of friends and work best individually. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy; they just have quieter tendencies. Extroverts, on the other hand, enjoy social settings with larger groups of people, are more outgoing and perform well in groups. Introverts get their energy from within, while extroverts acquire energy from those around them.

Because of their quieter tendencies, introverted people, starting from a young age, are commonly mistaken as antisocial. As a result, both teachers and parents try to encourage more social behavior from the student without realizing that the student enjoys spending time alone. While it may be easy to assume that introverted students are awkward company in social settings, their strong listening skills reveals the opposite. The author of “Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference,” Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler states that because of introverts’ ability to listen and ask questions they are perceived as good conversationalists. If more parents and teachers realize they needn’t worry about introverted children making friends, they could begin to learn how to promote their creativity.

Both schools and workplaces understand the importance of promoting creativity. But often, efforts to do so are misguided because of the bias in our society that one should be extroverted. Group projects and group work are common components of a standard class just as think tanks, presentations and collaborations are common in a working environment. Teachers push oral presentations and group projects in classrooms because of the importance that the workforce places on them. However, by doing so, they are muting the strengths of the introverts in the classroom and stifling their creative growth. In group projects when the introvert takes time to think about ideas before voicing them, the rest of the group may have decided on an idea and moved on with another component of the project. As a result, they are unable to share their ideas with their peers and receive feedback the way their extroverted peers are able to.

In the TedTalk “The Power of Introverts,” Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” proposes that “everybody … go off by themselves, generate their own ideas freed from the distortions of group dynamics and then come together as a team to talk them through in a well-managed environment and take it from there.”

The hours of contemplation spent by introverts just for sheer enjoyment incite realizations that one cannot achieve with constant stimuli in the background. Introverts can then share their revelations with the rest of society. This way, there is a balance between collaboration and individual thought, maximizing both the potential of introverts and extroverts alike.

We need only to look to great writers, scientists and activists of the past as evidence of the power of solidarity in inspiring creativity. Romantic writers turned to nature for peace and inspiration. Henry David Thoreau found creative stimulation living alone in nature near Walden Pond and famously wrote, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” William Wordsworth wrote 150 lines of poetry dedicated to the sublime beauty of nature he found in Tintern Abbey. Einstein and Gandhi are among other notable introverts whose character changed the world as we know it.

It may be easy, almost instinctive, to appoint the most charismatic and articulate people as our leaders. However, we should not dismiss the thoughtful minds of introverts so easily. We may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking.

Maral Margossian is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]