Now, regardless of where you fall in this debate, we all must cringe at the idea that kids should be sent to government facilities to be cured of a “defect”. And hopefully we a have our wits about us enough to be appropriately disgusted by rhetoric that makes children sound like gofers or spider monkeys in a zoo. That said, I’m not looking to discuss home schooling, or the false assertions this person made about it, right now. What I want to talk about is the ridiculous societal prejudice illustrated so nicely in this email. And the prejudice rest on two faulty ideas: A) There is something wrong with being introverted and B) Introverted people must be “broken” and “socialized”.
First let’s define our terms. Being an introvert has nothing to do with being shy or anxious in “social situations”. Any personality type can suffer from social phobias. Put simply, an introvert is energized by being alone or in small groups, where he or she can think, create and contemplate. An extrovert finds fulfillment primarily in large groups and generally hates being alone. It’s more complicated than this, obviously, but I’m just hitting the basics. The crucial point is that introversion has nothing to do with fear and extroversion has nothing to do with boldness or courage. I’m an introvert. And I host a talk show. That only seems like a contradiction to people who don’t understand basic human psychology. Most people who work behind a mic or in front of a camera are naturally introverted. Why? Because it’s a creative field and you can’t be creative if you never shut up long enough to think. I like to talk about actual subjects; I like to talk about subjects in front of large groups of people. I love ideas. I love to encounter them or come up with them. I hate small talk. And for this, I am among the lepers of modern society. Have you ever noticed how someone reacts if you interrupt their stream of meaningless chit chat with an actual topic or a relevant insight? You: “Hey I’ve thought quite a bit about that subject you just mentioned. I’ve got an opinion you might find interesting and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.” Small talker: “…Oh, that’s nice… But unfortunately I’ve already lost interest and am now transitioning to a 14 minute monologue about my recent doctor’s visit. I trust you’ll find this to be equal parts grotesque and boring, but I’ll plug right along because the only thing I fear more than silence is a conversation that requires the exchange of ideas, rather than irrelevant personal details and tasteless gossip.”
For whatever reason we’ve decided as a society that extroversion is the ideal. We’ve decided that small talk is better than real talk, noisy groups are better than quiet rooms, and we’d all rather be, or we’d rather our kids be, Tony Robbins (the god of Extroverts) than Leonardo Da Vinci (a notable Introvert). We live in a country where it’s perfectly acceptable to go up to a person and say in as loud and shrill a voice as possible, “WHY ARE YOU SO QUIET?!” Yet I’ll be frowned upon if I walk up to some gossiping blabbermouth at the food court and ask, “Do you ever shut your mouth?” (Answer: no) We put “team work” and “group collaboration” — however dysfunctional — over individual work — however effective. In public schools these days the teacher may even break you up into groups in a math or a writing class. I don’t think anything has ever been accomplished by committee in either field but, hey, we gotta “socialize” the little creatures, right?
In fact, almost every brilliant inventor, engineer, creator, thinker, writer, artist or revolutionary has possessed the apparently objectively defective trait of introversion. Einstein, Newton, Yeats, Proust, Shakespeare, Orwell, Edison, Plato, Bill Gates, all introverts. All extraordinarily successful BECAUSE of this trait, not in spite of it. Yet today we’d tell Newton to “come out of his shell”. We’d be offended by Plato because he doesn’t stop to talk about the weather every time we pass him in the hall. I’m sure Edison’s teachers would recommend a daily dose of psychotropic medication to cure him of his “anti-social disorder”.
I’m not saying all introverts are towering geniuses, I’m certainly far from it, but they might be. I’d say, at the very least, we have enough evidence to suggest that possibly there isn’t REALLY anything “defective” about those quiet kids the emailer mentioned. But there might be something brilliant about them. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with them. There’s something wrong with you if their silence somehow makes you question your own existence.
As I’ve said many times, the prevailing prejudice of modern American society is not based on race, it’s based on personality.