It’s been ten months since the pandemic’s initial lockdown last March. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been out of my apartment--mostly for essential tasks or for outdoor social commitments with a few friends or family. Yet, even though I live alone, I feel perfectly comfortable. In fact, I feel more productive these past months—writing my blogposts, reading all those books I never had time for, organising this and that. Sometimes, I play with ideas that come to my head.
I think of what I have saved from wasted time in traffic, or on errands which are no longer necessary now that online shopping, online banking, and Zoomed meetings have become more popular. And all those long, noisy parties, ugh!
On the other hand, my friend despite living in a relatively big household, has all kinds of excuses to go out almost everyday: she needs to go to the bank, to the hairdresser, to the gym, to shop here and there for a much needed item or two, or to exchange something she bought yesterday, and of course, to have meals with family and friends. Very active in a number of chat groups, she collects jokes and videos for posting, interrupted only when she hangs out at Zoom meetings with her different barkadas. Still, she complains quite frequently that she’s going crazy over these extended lockdowns.
When I exited a couple of these chat groups because their chitchats bothered me, she couldn’t understand. “Aren’t you bored being by yourself?” She asked. “No.” “What do you do all day?” “I have a schedule: In the mornings, I answer emails and busines correspondence. I also try to make extra time to research and write on my blog. After lunch I watch TV, return phone calls, do house chores, shop online for deliveries of provisions, and do my exercises. I have an early dinner and then read until I feel sleepy. My days are full, so I don’t mind these lockdowns!”
I am an introvert and my friend is an extrovert. Introverts are generally quiet--even withdrawn. We prefer solitude, or having one-on-one relationships with a few friends instead of being in a crowd. We are reflective and introspective and therefore frequently self-aware. In short, introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling. That makes us very private and often difficult to know.
Extroverts, on the other hand, are outgoing-- even gregarious and cheerful. They are comfortable in the spotlight, love groupwork on a variety of tasks, commonly preferring action to contemplation. In short, they are drawn to the external world of people and activities.
Where introverts are usually diligent and focused on the tasks at hand, extroverts are easily distracted. They speak more whereas introverts listen more. We prioritize independent work in quiet places over working collaboratively in open spaces. As extroverts love socializing with a large circle of friends they may know only superficially, they often think of introverts as aloof or shy or even arrogant since we feel less need to conform.
It is wise to keep in mind, however, that these descriptions are archetypal. In practical terms, introversion/extroversion are not dichotomous halves. Instead, they are opposite ends of the spectrum and most people fall in points within that spectrum, i.e., one is more or less extroverted; more or less introverted. Then, there are the ambiverts who are found in the middle of the continuum. In my case, I am often called a loner because I fall at the far end of the introversion scale even though I have characteristics not associated with introversion. For instance, I am by no means unassertive. Assertiveness is often considered a quality of extroverts.
The reason behind this is that behaviour has multiple causes. My introverted temperament co-exists with other factors that have influenced me—namely, my environment and how I have responded to this environment, including the habits I have formed. Together, they form a complex brew that is my personality. For example, as an impressionable young girl, I lived for seven years in New York City where I learned that “when people shout at you, you shout back louder.” I have never outgrown this tendency towards assertiveness.
On their own, neither introversion nor extroversion is the better temperament. There are strengths and weaknesses in each one, and roles for which one or the other is most fitted to play. Usually, people are drawn into careers where the strengths of their temperament become big assets--research, engineering, writing, accountancy, architecture, fine arts, and IT development for introverts--and sales, hospitality, real estate agency, politics, public relations, and social media for extroverts./3/
An issue is when one’s temperament conflicts with another’s in relationships. As an introvert with a pronounced extroverted son, he and I have to do a lot of planning for holidays so that both of us enjoy them.
This is even worse when one lives in a culture that is directly antithetical to one’s own temperament. Pundits claim that approximately 75% of Americans are extroverts. My guess is that whilst no figure is available for the Philippines, Filipinos are at least as extroverted, if not more. (Northern Europeans, on the other hand, are generally introverted). It is for this reason that Philippine society does not often reward introversion, and why the introverts in this country have difficulty adjusting to social norms and societal expectations. What to do if someone like me wants to fit in? I must develop adaptation skills where over time they become ingrained habits that contribute to changes in my behaviour patterns.
This does not contradict the assertion of psychologists that temperament is by and large innate, i.e., it is wired in our DNA. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung already postulated this idea long ago. Evidence for this is shown in the MRIs of the brain’s limbic system. The amygdala, the part that regulates emotions, is more reactive and excitable among introverts than among extroverts. Thus, we introverts can more easily get overwhelmed by additional external stimulation, and when we are, we seek quiet alone-time. It is our way of re-charging our energies, perhaps through a good book, or a TV film, or even just by taking a walk.
Tired extroverts, on the other hand, re-charge their energies through active social activities: shopping in malls, going out for drinks, or simply by being and having fun with other people.
Unfortunately for us, introverts only make about 35% of the world population. As such, most institutions are geared towards the needs of extroverts. When I was at university, we were rewarded for class participation. When my son was going to start school as a toddler, I was asked how he was at the playgroup setting. When he later applied for his first job, all the advertisements he saw put a high premium on recruits being team players. This was regardless of the nature of the job being advertised. Now-a-days, people in Manila call me a kill joy.
Nonetheless, introverts have made huge contributions to the progress of humanity. Think Neil Armstrong in science, Frederick Chopin in music, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, Warren Buffett in business, Steven Spielberg in entertainment, and Bill Gates in philanthropy. The list can go on and on.
Of course, there are equally long lists of contributions made by extroverts, which goes to show that we need a fine balance between action and reflection, and important decisions should include inputs from both kinds of people.
Extroverts think big: big projects, big risky ventures. They think less and act faster. Introverts focus--slow and steady like a turtle. To avoid the pitfalls of the buzz trips of the extroverts, one should likewise consider the clear sightedness of introverts. This is true whether you are in government or in stock trading.
If you’re a manager, be aware that introverts and extroverts often need different levels of stimulation in order to function at their best. If you agree that your people are your biggest asset, think of their different needs. Whenever you go on group dynamics exercises, for example, remember that at least a third of your workforce are introverts.
If you are the introvert, do work that you love. Think deeply, use your talent of persistence, concentration, and sensitivity to excel in your chosen field. You are not in a race with the extroverts, instead it is in developing competence that will give you confidence.
A promotional ad bandied around has introverted Einstein saying, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Footnotes: /1/ Photo was taken during the exhibition of ANTONY GORMLEY's scupltures at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, September 2019; /2/ Susan Cain, QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING. New York, Random House, 2013; /3/ Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B Myers. GIFTS DIFFERING: UNDERSTANDING PERSONALITY TYPES. Palo Alto, California, Davies-Black Publishing, 1995.