Introverted or Selfish?
(Originally published 2/5/16)
Two summers ago, I read an excellent book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. If you haven’t read it, you should, even if you’re not an introvert. With fifty percent of the population categorized as I’s (thank you, Meyer’s Briggs), chances are very good that you know someone who is one. You might be married to one. You might have a child who is one. This book helped me personally to understand myself, and begin to set necessary boundaries in the social arena without guilt. I have learned to give myself permission to take breaks from social interaction, especially when I begin snapping at the people closest to me. (See my blog post from back then if you want to follow my journey of introverted discovery.) I am so grateful to Susan Cain and others who have shed light on our culture’s extroverted ideal, and validated those among us who need to be away from people to be most creative and productive. Introverts around the world are breathing a collective sigh of relief when we realize that we don’t have to be pseudo-extroverts in order to be successful in life.
In recent months, though, I’ve begun to wonder if all this focus on the introverts’ needs has created another problem – self-indulgent introverts who now feel oh so comfortable to just stay home rather than go to a party, serve at a soup kitchen, go to church, attend functions – basically any situation that would be socially taxing. I’ve wondered whether some introverts feel they’ve been given the green light to basically ignore their fellow human beings and pass through life on their quiet little islands, only doing things that “fill me up” and never “drain me.”
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for getting filled up. I lived for many years of my life completely drained and it took 2 months of almost total social disconnection for me to feel filled up. But at some point, we need to come out of our caves and do the uncomfortable thing of engaging and loving people. We need to go to our friend’s birthday party because they need to feel loved. We need to attend church and interact with people to show that we value the family of God and care about their lives. We need to invite people to our houses for dinner so that we can practice the lost art of hospitality. We need to spread the warm embrace of Jesus to a hurting world by serving the poor. We need to show up to baby showers, Bible studies, book clubs, fundraisers because the people who invite us feel loved when we do. We need to chaperone our kids’ field trips (painful, I know) because it means the world to them. In short, we need to love people. And how can we love them when we are cocooned in our homes (both physical and metaphorical) with the curtains drawn, not risking eye contact with our neighbors as we dash from car to front door for fear that we might be drawn into conversation?
Introverts, I speak as one of you. I know it is not easy to get out the door on a Friday night for an event when you’d rather stay home and read a book. Here are some tips that help me when I’m in the midst of the struggle.
You don’t have to stay all night. Go. Spread the love. And then come home and read your book.
You don’t have to work the room. I know how exhausting it is when you feel like you have to say hello to every single solitary person and make useless small talk for hours on end. Go. Find two people you know, and one person you don’t know. Talk to those people and try to have a meaningful conversation. Then go home and read your book.
Build in time to recuperate. If you have an event coming on Friday night, try to keep your Saturday night free. This means you’ll have to say no to some things. When that happens, write a personal note of regret to the host, but don’t feel like you need to give a reason for not showing up.
Stop thinking about yourself already. When you’re in the car on the way to an event, switch your mindset from “I really don’t want to go mingle for 2 hours” to “Who can I find to encourage at this party?” You’ll be surprised how much more enjoyable the night will be when you get the focus off yourself.
Let’s agree to not pull the introverted card whenever we don’t want to interact with people. It is fine to set limits on social engagement for refueling purposes, but let's make sure we don't cross over from introverted to selfish.