I am eagerly waiting.
I’m waiting for the day when we’ll take all of this magnificent, heartwarming talk of “diversity,” and actually apply it in some sort of meaningful way. On one hand, we appear to be utterly obsessed with diversity. We speak so glowingly about it. We have policies and quotas and regulations to enforce it. We even have “Diversity Experts” who are paid a lot of money by businesses and government agencies to offer helpful diversity tips: “Hire more minorities and gay people. The end. That’ll be 25,000 dollars. Thanks, bye.” We are truly committed to diversity, whatever the cost.
But then, on the other hand, we are also rigid, intolerant, un-accepting and unaccommodating to a degree unmatched in any culture this side of Sharia Law. Sure, we’ll join in a big cuddly group hug with folks of any proclivity and pigmentation, but that hug will turn into a rugby scrum the second anyone expresses an idea, or demonstrates a personality trait, that we deem to be abnormal. That’s “diversity” in modern America. We need everyone to think and behave in a certain predetermined manner. If — and only if — they fulfill that obligation, we’re willing to accept their ethnic heritage and sexual appetites. Maybe we’re not so committed to diversity, after all. In fact, maybe we detest diversity. Maybe we loathe the very idea that people are even allowed to behave and think in a manner we deem abnormal.
A couple of days ago on my show I took another opportunity to extol the virtues of homeschooling. A public school, despite all of its lip service to diversity, is a place of ruthless conformity. Everyone must learn a certain way, think a certain way, and behave a certain way. These structures are enforced by any means necessary, which often means psychotropic drugs. Chemical conformity is not only a great name for a rock band, but the motto for our current education system. So, for that reason among many others, this public schooled guy is a big proponent of homeschooling.
Our discussion led to the usual emails from Statists who are quite concerned about the chaos that will surely ensue if too many parents decide to rebelliously teach their children information that isn’t sanctioned by the government. I’d like to address one particular objection to homeschooling, as it also belies a societal prejudice that extends beyond the homeschool/public school debate. This is part of an email from a listener named Scott:
“…The biggest problem with homeschooling is its failure to effectively socialize children. Public school teaches kids to be outgoing and extroverted. I’ve found that many homeschooled kids seem to be quiet and uncomfortable in social situations. The classroom environment could help these kids come out of their shell…”
Alright. Now, this is wrong on every count. In fact, kids who are homeschooled tend to be much better in “social situations” because they learned how to socialize from adults, rather than aping the personality traits of their peers. Public school doesn’t make kids “sociable,” and I think you could more accurately argue for the opposite. The whole concept that we need to send our children to government facilities to be “socialized” makes me shudder. Our children aren’t animals, and I wish we’d stop speaking about them as if they were. That said, I’m not looking to argue that point at the moment. Instead, I’d like to examine the idea that being “outgoing and extroverted” is some sort of universal ideal.
It isn’t. If a kid is introverted he doesn’t need to be broken like a dog. He doesn’t need to change his personality. He doesn’t even need to “come out of his shell.” He’s not hiding in a shell. He just doesn’t feel the need to chatter incessantly with everyone in the room. If that makes you uncomfortable — that’s your problem. There’s nothing objectively preferable or superior about extraversion.
Maybe we should define our terms. People throw these labels around without understanding what they mean (what else is new?). Being an introvert has nothing to do with being 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 extraversion has nothing to do with boldness or courage.
I’m an introvert. But I host a talk show. But I’m not talkative. But I like public speaking. But I don’t like meeting strangers. These only seem like contradictions to those 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 can’t shut up long enough to think of something meaningful to say. I like to discuss subjects, and I will immediately check out of a conversation if it becomes clear that the other person is deftly maneuvering the dialogue so as to avoid saying anything coherent.
I love ideas, I like people who love ideas, and for this reason I hate small talk. I hate it with a blinding passion. Small talk exists simply to cannibalize silence, and I cherish silence because it’s the best environment for thinking. Nowadays, we seem to be under the simplistic impression that the “friendliest” people are the ones who say the most. If that’s the case, I guess the best musician is the one who plays the loudest, and the greatest painter is the one who uses the most paint.
Without intending any offense to the small talkers of the world, allow me to suggest that there’s nothing terribly friendly about ripping me out of my imagination simply because you can’t deal with a few moments of peace and quiet. Today I was standing outside the local coffee shop, getting my third of twelve caffeine fixes for the day, and enjoying the nice weather. I noticed an ant crawling across the pavement. It was a pretty big ant, as a far as ants go. I started to meditate on this ant, and as I stared at it, I stumbled upon an interesting ant-related thought. I don’t remember the thought, because I was suddenly interrupted by a guy standing next to me.
Guy: “It’s supposed to hit 70 on Saturday, I think.”
Me: “…What? The ant?”
Guy: “Huh? No, the temperature. It’s supposed to be 70 degrees on Saturday.”
Me: “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, 70 degrees on Saturday. Cool, yeah. I agree. I mean, yeah, that’ll be nice.”
Guy: “…Right. OK, well, take it easy.”
Me: “You too.”
That about encapsulates 75 percent of the interactions I have on a daily basis. I’m stuck deep inside my own head, somebody comes along and yanks me out of it in order to make meaningless small talk, I somehow fumble the exchange, and we both walk away feeling awkward and regretful. Nowadays, I’m the bad guy because I’m not always looking to socialize, and when I do socialize, I prefer to talk ABOUT something. People in my camp might be guilty of finding a way to bumble a basic exchange of pleasantries, but that’s largely because our attempts to have an engaging conversation with another person usually fail, and not by our own doing.
Here’s what happens when we interrupt someone’s stream of pointless chit chat in an attempt to initiate a substantive discussion:
Us: “Hey, I’ve thought quite a bit about one of the 40 subjects you just touched on in the last 30 seconds as you were babbling at me. In fact, I think you’ll find this to be a worthwhile insight, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well…”
Small talker: “Oh, that’s nice, but unfortunately I’ve already lost interest and now I am going to transition into a 14 minute gossipy monologue about some bull crap you couldn’t possibly find relevant or interesting.”
I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically how it goes. This also demonstrates how, despite popular opinion, extroverts can be extraordinarily anti-social. Yet introverts are considered the creepy, future mass killers of society, while extroversion is hoisted up as the ideal. Some of this stems from a simple obsession with noise. Last week I went to a nearby bar to get a beer with my producer. It was about 6 in the evening, we stopped off at a place with a great selection of brews from all over the country. Nobody in the joint was under the age of 25, most looked to be well over 30. I can say with certainty that not a single one of the mostly white, adult, blue collar dudes in that establishment came there to get their twerk on. But that didn’t stop the bar management from blasting rap music in our faces at 1000 decibels. This, in and of itself, has become an epidemic. A few months ago I tried to order a roast beef sandwich at a deli, but my efforts were hindered by the pulsating techno-pop music pumping through the speakers. Again, this was at a sandwich shop, around lunch time on a Tuesday. Not exactly the sort of time and place where you expect, or need, or desire a 1980′s nightclub ambience.
Maybe it’s a stretch to try and connect techno and roast beef with our society’s obsession with being extroverted, but I think it all grows from the same root: We’ve decided that small talk is better than real talk, noise is better than silence, and we’d all rather be — or we’d rather our kids be– Tony Robbins than, say, Leonardo Da Vinci (a notable introvert). We live in a country where it’s perfectly acceptable to find the silent person in the back of the room 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 innocently inquire as to if, and when, they plan on shutting their mouth for 15 seconds.
We put “team work” and “group collaboration” over individual achievement. In schools, the teacher may even break students into groups to complete math and writing assignments. I don’t think anything has ever been accomplished by committee in either field, but, hey, we gotta “socialize” the little creatures, right?
Introverts might not enjoy parties, but that isn’t because they’re afraid of them. It’s because they’re bored by them. They’d rather take their beer into another room and read something, or write something, or think about something. They aren’t hiding from human interaction, they’re doing the thing that energizes them and brings them fulfillment.
Indeed, many of the greatest inventors, engineers, creators, thinkers, writers, artists and revolutionaries have possessed the apparently defective trait of introversion. Einstein, Newton, Yeats, Proust, Shakespeare, Orwell, Edison, Plato, Bill Gates — all introverts. And all incredibly successful BECAUSE of this trait, not in spite of it. Today I’m sure 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 living proof that it doesn’t always work that way — but, still, your 5th grade introvert might have beautiful intellectual gifts that don’t include being naturally outgoing. Who cares? He won’t make a great salesman, so what? His personality is an asset in so many ways, even if the world says otherwise. The world doesn’t know what it’s talking about. The world doesn’t know that it’s been shaped and transformed by those weird, shy introverts. So, no, there isn’t anything defective about those quiet kids in class. But there might be something brilliant about them. They might be able to think and create incredible things in their quiet mind, inside that “shell,” up in that mysterious head of theirs.
The next time you think there’s something wrong with being introverted, pick up a biography of Ghandi, or JK Rowling, or Warren Buffett, or Thomas Aquinas, or Abraham Lincoln, and then reconsider your assessment. We might not light up the room, but we can change the world.