Look! An introvert!

“Mary, you know I hate parties. My idea of hell is a very large party in a cold room where everybody has to play hockey properly.” –Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

I spent many years of my childhood blissfully unaware of one crucial detail about myself. While I was reading, enjoying time by myself staring out of a window in contemplation, I did not realize that my proclivity towards solitary activities somehow put me in a minority. That doesn’t mean that I hate people. It has to do with scale and a need for recharging after the event. Large parties are a horror that can only be counteracted by hours of quiet.

Hello, I am an introvert. Nice to meet you.

We seem to be a society intent on pigeon-holing everyone and everything into categories. There is a sort of obsession with personal quirks that create Otherness and Sameness. Introvert or extravert. Gay or straight. Male or female. Because of the guidelines in the DSM-V, someone who is shy, eccentric, or lives an untraditional life can be classified as mentally ill. The neatness of these categories creates a landscape where it is difficult to determine gradation. Rather than accepting individual differences, we try to find a way to describe them, a way to figure out if that fits in with traditional views of society, and whether another person is the same or different from us.

The popularity of Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is both empowering and problematic. People are all too eager to pick up the banner of introvert and proclaim their need for a quiet moment. In large, this is good. We cannot all be Dale Carnegies in this world. But it also sets up a polarized image of one or the other when there are possibly a great deal of people who fall somewhere in between, neither one nor the other, or who feel different preferences at different points in their lives. Many other aspects of personality receive this same treatment.

I sometimes buy into this line of thinking. For instance, I identify as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality test. However, in accepting this label, I have perhaps been limiting myself. I remember first taking the test as a high school student, and, when I got the result, I felt like I had been put into an unemployable box by the artist label. A quick search will turn up many suggested occupations to go along with this type. It is fascinating, in a way, to identify with a group of like-minded people, but isn’t it also cutting off possibilities of who and what I could be?

So, I guess I am an introvert, if I must be labeled. But we are all many things besides the categories we enforce on ourselves. We all have quirks, and they don’t have to be considered in terms of Same or Other.

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