Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My name is Stephen and I am an introvert

Last year Home Paddock outed herself as an introvert. It’s a constant surprise to me how many other current and former journalists are introverts – I’d better not name any because we tend to be shy about it but believe me, there’s a lot of it about. One colleague who taught me more about writing than anyone since former Listener editor Tony Reid is widely considered an affable extrovert who is gregarious and the life and soul of every party. A couple of years ago I met him again and after just a few minutes realised that he is a massive introvert who uses humour and anecdotes to keep people at bay. We can fool most of the people, most of the time.

Many editors are introverts. Quite a few musicians are introverts too. And when you get people like like me and my friend John who are both musicians and editors, you get a double dose. How lucky our wives and children are.

Well, maybe so. Apparently we introverts are quite nice, really, and not always difficult to manage. Here is the great American journalist Jonathan Rauch writing in the Atlantic about what an introvert is and how to care for one. I’d always thought it was about being shy but he says not. Which makes sense: if John and I can get up on stage and perform, we can’t be shy. No, it’s something else, and Rauch totally nails it. He begins: 
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious”, or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands – and that you aren’t caring for him properly.
Later he says:  
My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.”
My favourite sentence: 
Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts.”
Totally. Over the last few years I have passed this article on to a dozen or so friends whom I thought were introverts or lived with one, and all said: “Thank you. It explains so much.”


Anonymous said...

You are correct. My MBIT is INTP, but I have never seen my introversion explained so succinctly

helenalex said...

Oh good. Now I can explain myself by saying I'm an introvert, rather than 'I don't like people'.

Re the introverted journalist thing, this makes a lot of sense. By becoming journalists, introverts get to ask interesting people screeds of questions - some of them quite rude and/or personal - without having to bother with the social chitchat and making friends that normally precedes that.