Mind Matters — Introverts and Extroverts

I don’t know if Mickey or Minnie Mouse are introverts or extroverts, but certainly Disney World, with its multitudes of people and ubiquitous sensory stimulation, is the extrovert’s heaven. Recently, I, the introvert, spent a few days living in this altered reality which my son likened to being in that, now old, movie, The Truman Show. Remember? That was the film where Jim Carey’s life was, unbeknownst to him, just one big scripted and directed stage set.

Introverts, of course, can enjoy fantasy rides and roller coasters with the best of the extroverts. However, lots of people and an overload of stimulation depletes an introvert’s energy while bolstering the extrovert’s. One of my daughter’s friends who was with us laughed at how he, the extrovert, was enjoying soaking up our energy!

The psychiatrist Carl Jung, as well as many others, have addressed the issues of introversion and extroversion for years. Recently, however, Susan Cain has written Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

In a culture, such as ours, that holds extroversion in high esteem, it is refreshing to find a book extolling the virtues of—yes—introversion. Introversion should not be confused with shyness. Says Cain, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” Hence, although some people can be both shy and introverted, it is just as likely that they can be shy and extroverted. Cain cites Barbara Streisand as an example of the latter.

Despite their differences, though, Cain attests that to others, shyness and introversion appear the same. Where the shy person may fear speaking up, the introvert’s reticence is due to feeling overstimulated. The result, however, is that such people may be ignored in the din and clamor of a noisy world that rewards the “alpha status.”

Cain begins her book by telling the story of a woman of quiet wisdom. In 1955, after a long day bent over an ironing board in a Montgomery, Alabama, department store, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat in the “Colored Section” of the bus for a white passenger. The bus driver has her arrested.

Her quiet civil rights protest ushered in a chain of events that coincided with Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil rights movement. Rosa Parks has been described by those who knew her as a soft spoken woman—both “shy” and “courageous,” and with “quiet fortitude.”

While Rosa Parks appears to have been an introvert, Martine Luther King may have been her extroverted counterpart in the struggle for civil rights. Cain informs us of the complementarity of their actions. MLK was a stellar orator, able to inspire many with his eloquence. Rosa Parks’ quiet courage likewise moved many to action. And so it is that Cain urges us to recognize the need for both introverts and extroverts. We need both to better the world.