If you’re an introvert, meaning you get energized by alone time and love reading (not an exhaustive definition), you will have come across at least one person whose challenged mental faculties have led them to describe you as ‘shy’. If you haven’t, great! I envy you already. But for us other less fortunate souls, I know it feels nothing short of a personal insult even though it may not have been meant that way. Shyness implies a lack of confidence, which is NOT what introversion is. I can not emphasize this point enough. Introversion is having an inner mental life so rich that you don’t need much external stimulation to enjoy yourself. It is not social ineptitude, or arrogance. It is merely choosing to travel inwards instead of making small talk. I don’t know why society makes it seem so wrong, really. Quoting Susan Cain, ‘Solitude matters. And for some people, it is the air they breathe.’
Children who are quiet or who read instead of talking and shouting with their classmates as labelled ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ and encouraged, sometimes even forced, to participate more in group activities. *Shudders* Don’t even get me started on group activities. I mean, I’m all for co-operation and teamwork, but there are times when you just have to do things alone! Everything can not be a joint venture or there would be no entrepreneurs. And the teachers and the parents of such children who constantly feel the need to enhance the social stimulation that the kid is exposed to are harming them rather than helping them. Our society has gotten so addicted to the idea of groups and teams that we have forgotten individuality. There are so many people who suffer from a low self-esteem because they haven’t discovered who they are. In this mad rush for collaboration, we have overlooked personality development and fed ourselves to the monster of conformity.
All of this ‘groupism’, in my opinion, has led to peer pressure. I have classmates who are extremely confident, even dominating, in social settings and yet I know for a fact that they are not capable of climbing down two flights of stairs alone, let alone sitting or eating on their own. I find this extremely sad because I think that the first best friend that you should have is yourself. One must be capable of sitting for hours and hours alone in their own company; thinking, reading – and such times of deep contemplation in solitude are the highlights of my normal day most of the times. This is not to say I advocate against being with people in general. I can not consider my day complete without talking to at least one of my friends, and talking to others gives me the release that I desperately need after thinking on my own at times.
All I’m saying is that this mad rush for teamwork needs to be paused! Children who prefer books over loud, boisterous people shouldn’t be made to feel like there is something wrong with them for feeling so. Introversion is a personality trait. If these children and the rich, inner workings of their minds aren’t encouraged, they will conform. They will conform and put on a facade of extroversion, even though they won’t be very good at it, and lose their true selves in the process. These selves might get buried so deep under the heavy layers of social expectations that society imposes that they may not resurface ever again, and the child will lead a life feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied.
So, as an introvert who loves this facet of my personality and feels every other introvert should get the opportunity to feel the same (after all, about 47% of people in the world are introverts), I ask you to look around. Find the introverts in your life, and give them their space. If some day, they choose sitting at home instead of coming out with you, don’t attribute it to their dislike of you or their moodiness. They just need to recharge. If a person chooses to read instead of coming and joining your ‘gossip time’, let them. It is their way of enjoying, and they need it. If you identify yourself as an introvert, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to social outings when you just need a cup of coffee and time by the window. If the extroverts around you find it selfish or weird, let them. Be you, be true.