I clutched my handkerchief tight as I entered the party. A fake smile on my face, with awkward little steps, I followed my friend (the only one I knew in the crowd) around, trying to make small talk with the people she introduced me to. As the DJ began playing music loud enough to make the moon frown, I finally found solace in an isolated corner, sitting and staring at my cell phone, waiting desperately for the party to get over.
I’ve often found myself caught in such unnerving situations, the kinds many in my peer group thoroughly enjoy. I’ve always had the burden of being an introvert in a world where extroversion is the culturally preferred personality type. After having read in ‘The Sociological Imagination’ that ‘history’, or societal forces and developments, has a major role in authoring an individual’s biography, I realized how what I am today is largely because of broader processes. Introverts being forced to mould their personalities according to societal demand is an example of the fact that society has a significant bearing on individual lives.
In a super aggressive society where one has to constantly market oneself, people who prefer to sit back, who flinch at the thought of being at the centre of attention, are invariably at a loss and have to work really hard to become pseudo-extroverts, as opposed to people with excellent social skills. Gruelling social situations do not plague the latter. Come to think of it, introversion is just another personality type, something we would accept and not be worried about, if only the world would stop forcing us to feel not-so-normal and change. The fact that I’d rather sit in an armchair and read a book, my dog gently snoring beneath, than dance to Pitbull in DJ parties does not make me someone in need of a personality makeover.
Unfortunately, self-help book-selling, extrovert-oriented society has made the word ‘introvert’ sound like some disorder. It is a stigma. When you’re not the way everyone wants you to be, you often have to battle it out. Playing with unfamiliar kids on the playground after having been pushed into it by worried parents following complaints from teachers that “she doesn’t open up”, can be a major hurdle for a kindergarten kid. Teenage was another comic tragedy. Throughout, I was told again and again to get out of my “shell”. I felt trapped indeed. Personally, I was the happiest in that little world with a few really good friends and lots of ideas and thoughts. But bowing down to societal pressure, I felt Ihad no option but to alter my personality, put on a mask.
My point is, why does one have to change? I read parts of an interesting book by Susan Cain, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, a guide aimed at helping introverts to make their presence felt without really changing themselves entirely. Audrey Hepburn, J.D. Salinger, Rosa Parks, are among the many introverts who made it big (inspiration for us!). The author mentions how introversion is simply another personality type, not something anyone has to worry about. She writes how animals such as turtles have a natural tendency to take their shells wherever they go. That’s exactly how we are. I’m NOT a “recluse”,a “snob”, or a people-hater, I’m just someone who takes some time to get close to people but really values those people if and when she’s gotten close to them. This introvert-myth needs to be busted.
It’s because societies are getting increasingly competitive and aggressive that quiet, turtle-ish people like me feel trapped and forced to wear a different personality. Developments like good public-relations skills being a significant aspect in many professions, corporate firms placing a major emphasis on the importance of team-work, etc., exemplify the fact that extroversion is much in demand. Facebook, where pictures of partying-pouting people abound, is a shining example of this new youth culture, making people like me wish we were born in the 70s.
Wisdom is beginning to dawn on me, and I’ve decided to quit trying to fit in. I’d like to conclude with a beautiful quote from Winnie the Pooh that sums up how I feel- “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”