On Introversion

“Hey, Ms. Shea?”


“Were you ever an actress? I mean, I feel like you would have been a good one.”

This interaction has occurred multiple times in a few of my classes, and I am always amazed by it.

Me, an actress?

Me, the enthusiastic but woefully unqualified seven year old who landed the role of Toto (yes – the dog) in a club production of The Wizard of Oz one summer? (I remember learning EVERYONE else’s lines by heart and whispering them to the other little actors whenever they hesitated with panic-stricken faces.)

Me, the shy and painfully awkward high school student whose only roles in high school productions were a minor “Penelope Ann” in “Bye Bye Birdie” and one of those green-faced scary guards in “The Wizard of Oz” (well at least that’s better than being Toto…?)

But for some reason, a lot of my students seem to think that, judging by my antics in the classroom, I would make a great zany and (probably) nerdy actress – maybe like a (WAY) less cool version of Zooey Deschanel.

Source: sheknows.com

Knowing myself, I find this description of me really hard to believe. All the actors and actresses I knew in high school were pretty darn extroverted, and even the more demure ones I met in college always seemed to have a zaniness about them that could explode now and again into performance.

In fact, the whole idea of really inhabiting another person – even if it were just a character – has always seemed very foreign to me. I have always been so inwardly focused – and have thought of myself has a devout Introvert, with a capital “I”. The Introvert dedicated to reading incessantly and writing copiously, thinking far too deeply and observing life with a rather critical (hypocritical?) eye, a sort of a pre-Book 4 Ginny Weasley.

ohmygod it’s Harry and I’m in my pajamas!
Source: harrypotter.wikia.com

In college, one of my very best friends introduced me to the Myers-Briggs type indicator, and I was thrilled with learning about my particular brand of introversion – INFJ. So many things seem to make more sense to me. I no longer felt guilty about requiring alone time and feeling out of place at typical parities. I became proud of my Introversion.

Lately, I have noticed that Introversion is becoming rather popular in the world at large – at least the online world. Last year I stumbled upon this TED Talk about how underestimated introverts our in our extrovert-dominated culture, which you should really take the time to watch if you have not seen it already:

Verily Magazine also had an article the other day about introverts:

In fact, the only thing all introverts have in common is the very thing that defines them as introverts—the ability to draw energy from quiet and solitude, rather than association with others. For example, an introvert might have a wonderful time at a party, but afterward feel drained and long for some downtime alone. I like to say that an introvert is a lot like a cell phone; spend too much time talking and it will lose power—until you plug it in to recharge. (See Embracing Your Inner Introvert by Clare Behe)

And then, last night, I discovered this fascinating video by PBS Idea Channel on Youtube – which challenges the new Introvert craze and attempts to explain why this “fad” is occurring in terms of technology:

In response to this video, an Extroverted friend of mine (an ENFP, if I am not mistaken?) had the following insightful comments to make:

I think he’s totally right about the introvert fetish, but I think part of it is because in the sort of memes he was referring to are generally focused on traits which are common to people in general. It’s just that these traits are the sort that aren’t necessarily displayed as clearly as they are felt by people. For example, no one who has spent ten minutes with me would call me an introvert, and yet I identify with a large number of these memes.

I forget if it was Aristotle or some later critic who said that the protagonist of a good tragedy is more virtuous than the average man but not preeminently good, and that that’s how most people see themselves. In the same way, I think everyone feels as though he is introspective and rejected on some level.

As for the depth of conversation, as an extrovert there is some accuracy in the characterization as having more shallow interactions, but I think that’s largely because we initiate so many more interactions in the first place. I have a lot of meaningful conversations, but I also have a lot of small and mostly meaningless interactions, but they are out of a thirst for the former.

Anyway, I thought all of this might give you food for thought.

To conclude:

Maybe my kids are onto something. I DO act like an “Extrovert” when I am teaching. I even make jokes! In “real” life, I don’t think I come across as a very funny person except to those who know me very well, but as a teacher I crack jokes all the time. I even talk about myself.

But by the end of the day (sometimes sooner than that) I am EXHAUSTED beyond belief. In fact, I sometimes find it really hard to do anything after school besides take a nap and hide for a few hours so I can process my day. Even phone calls seem really daunting to me after a day of teaching.

Maybe that’s also why I struggle with grading more efficiently – I just cannot bear to look at essays and such things after a full day of teaching, because to me those essays CONTINUE the conversation I was having with my kids during the day. If I grade an essay, I am still, in essence, talking to them! It never ends!

And as much as I love them, I often feel as though I have very little left to give by that time.

All ye introverts: what do you think? Can you relate to this? How do you reconcile jobs, occupations, or daily routines that involve a LOT of (sometimes superficial) human interaction with your need for privacy and peace?

All ye extroverts: I KNOW you MUST have something to say. Ha ha ha. But really! What do you think of this recent “Introvert” craze? How would you respond to the increasingly common tendency to stereotype Extroverts as being content with “shallow” conversations and a myriad of superficial friendships?

And, for the curious among you:

Check out this website that thoroughly explains the Myers-Briggs Type indicator and theory. I find it a limited (but useful) tool you can use to understand yourself and the people around you better, as long as you don’t reduce any human person to a mere series of four letters.

“A Conversation that Matters”

Source: Verilymag.com

For years now, I have noticed that one of my greatest pet peeves, one of the things that ALWAYS makes me frustrated, are “the conversation police.”

I think you might know them.

Whenever a conversation (usually among at least 3 people) starts to become serious — or someone mentions something sad on the news, or someone else mentions politics or (worse) religion, or the general tenor of the talk shifts from superficial to profound — the conversation police intervene. And they say something like,

“Wow, Anne, way to be a downer.”


“Well… this is awkward. ANYWAY – I was shopping the other day and…”


“Man, this conversation got really SERIOUS all of a sudden!”


“Okay… MOVING ON!”

Or, sometimes, they even police themselves, and say,

“Ah, sorry to ruin the conversation guys. We can talk about something else.”

“Ruin” the conversation?? When you actually said something significant, and everyone was listening to you??

That’s when the frustration starts to boil up inside of me and I encounter (the increasingly frequent) temptation to despair of humanity’s ability to communicate at all.

Have you experienced this phenomena too?

Why is it that when people start talking about something that really MATTERS, a lot of people feel awkward enough to change the topic to something that DOESN’T matter? Why are we so afraid to really speak to one another? Why do our conversation topics always have to be “happy” (but not truly happy)? Why do we shy away from what is serious… from what is true?

Okay – a caveat is in order:

I do understand that there are times when certain types of conversations are appropriate, and there are other times when they just aren’t. Setting matters, context matters, timing matters – the people involved also matter. You can’t talk about gay marriage or abortion or God or death or the poor just any time you want, without considering the situation you are in. Yes, I get that.

Another caveat:

I also understand that some people don’t like talking about controversial issues in public–although I vehemently wish they would try to get over this, because I think the public square (whether that’s in a high school hallway, on the street, or in the news)  NEEDS people who have the courage to talk about what matters. I am (according to Myers-Briggs) an INFJ, and therefore a very private person. But as an INFJ I also get really sick of superficial conversation that starts nowhere and ends nowhere, just because it is “safe” and “easy.”

As a high school English teacher, I am surrounded by young people who are either 1) scared to talk about stuff that matters or 2) ignorant of how to do this charitably and reasonably. I think they see older people who are unwilling to talk about what matters, or who talk about it in a very unkind way, and so they are turned off and never really learn how.

In my honors class the other day (we’re still studying mythology), I was so proud of my kids because we actually DID have a good conversation. They handled it really well. Having read Dr. Mark Lowery’s article on C. S. Lewis’ idea “Myth Become Fact,” one of my students asked a really good question about whether or not we were dishonoring other religions by claiming that Christianity fulfills all of them and is the ONE “myth” that actually became a historical fact.

A plethora of hands shot up in the air (I could see the “oh no! moral relativism!” gleam in their eyes) as they tried (rather unsuccessfully) to communicate to this student their versions of an answer.

So I had them write down their answers for homework and we talked about it again the next day, with more success I think.

I tried to bring in Pope Benedict’s Caritatis in Veritate a little bit: people tend often to either value truth without love (the uberconservatives, for lack of a better term), or love without truth (the uberliberals, for lack of a better term). When really, truth without love isn’t truth at all – it’s a lie. And love without truth isn’t love at all – it’s a well-disguised cruelty.

Benedict says, “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity” (CIV 1).

And I think herein lies the real point:

If you want to have a real conversation, you have to strive for the marriage of truth and love in whatever you say. And that takes courage.

So, as the wonderful Daily Dose from Verily Magazine suggests:

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”