Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Introverts Lament. "I'd like you to meet. . . "

 "Lonesome" Charley Reynolds, one of the 7th Cavalry's well known scouts, and one who lost his life at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  The son of a physician and sufficiently well educated that he was in college at the time the Civil War broke out (he left college as a result), Reynolds took up occupations which allowed him to lead a solitary life, such as being a hunter and a scout.  He was famous for keeping the details of his personal life, and indeed his entire interior life, to himself.  I get it, even if most historians don't seem to.  He was just an introvert.

"Oh no."

That statement, and that reply, are things I often hear, and then think to myself.

The reason is that I'm highly introverted.

It sounds odd, and many people who know me would be surprised by that statement.  For one thing I'm a lawyer and lawyers, even though it turns out a very high percentage of them are in fact introverts, are not associated with that.  Indeed, we're associated with the opposite.

Additionally, even highly introverted people such as myself can be "on" in context.  So, at work, I'm engaged and dealing with people.  I have problem addressing juries, clients, etc. etc., in context. I've served on councils and boards, and I often find that I'm the one speaking.  So, naturally enough, people assume that I must be extroverted.  How can you address a crowd of strangers on delicate topics and be introverted?

Well, you sure can.

One of the hallmarks of introverted people is that we really don't do well in social settings that have no discernible immediate purpose and are made up of people we don't know. Give us a setting and a purpose, and we'll more than rise to the speaking occasion, and likely take over it as well.

But give us no other discernible purpose other than to be with a lot of people we don't know and we'll calm up in personal agony.

Another character trait is that we need down time, in a major way.

That catches people off guard as we're often perfectly free to ramble on, as I so often don here, in person with people we know.  But that doesn't mean that we enjoy doing the same with people we don't.  Indeed, while that's apparently relaxing to other people, it's hugely distressing to us.

This in turn is a real problem for introverts in the modern American world.  We don't "network" well. We don't network at all.  There's nothing that sounds fun to me at all about being in a room full of people mingling with people I don't know.  I don't enjoy talking about myself ("so. . what do you do") and I don't enjoy offering opinions on political or social matters to strangers out of context.  While I could address a group on nearly any topic, if I'd been giving a reason or task to do that, I don't do that with people I don't know very well, in person.

I often am on the periphery, for example, of discussions on social issues, political issues or religious issues, or even scientific issues, out of a context and in which I'm with people I know, but not well.  I can listen to such conversations and be well aware that I know vastly more than the people who are talking, even debating, and that I could in fact crush one side, or even both, in a debate, if I entered it. But as I didn't go to debate, and just ended up the silent third partner in those discussions, I stay that way.  I don't say anything.  And if invited to, I'll usually say something that basically is neutral and leads me out of the discussion if possible.  It's not that I'm chicken about debating, I do it all the time, it's just that mentally, that's now where I was at the moment.  Just this past weekend I experienced when a debate or discussion arose between a rancher and a rancher/Protestant minister on references to Jesus in the Koran.  I know a lot more about that topic than either of them did.  I found that I needed to go to the kitchen to get myself some lunch rather than enter the debate. . .

Being an introvert also places me in the position of turning stuff down, which often strikes people as odd or rude.  For example, when invited to certain things in a business context, my instinct is to flee.  Dinners, sporting events, plays, whatever.  My first instinct is to bolt.

This can cause us to be mistakenly regarded as rude even as people who know us in workplace settings, where we're "on", think we're the life of the party.  It's all in context.  For example, I will not engage in small talk with people on airplanes or trains.  I won't.  Occasionally I'll have somebody try, but when I'm in that setting, I'm usually reading a book.  I like reading books and its one of the few chances I have to actually concentrate, uninterrupted, on a book. And as conversation on planes or trains is always the ultimate in small talk, and as I find that sort of talk absolute torture, I'm not going to do it, even if I'm capable of doing it.  Nonetheless, occasionally you'll get seated next to some extrovert who really really wants to just talk. I'm sure they think that the introvert, i.e., me, is rude.

Likewise, occasionally in restaurants somewhere when I'm traveling the same thing will happen.  "Would you mind sitting at the bar?"  The answer of course is no, as you want seated.  Next to you some happy traveler will soon attempt to strike up a conversation.  "Reading a book?".  "Yep". "Good book?"  Oh no. . .

And sort of related to this is the attendance declination.  As readers here can tell, I'm a fairly serious Catholic.  I tend towards being a fairly isolated or small group one as well.  So, occasionally I'll get a query like; "Why don't you join us for the out of town men's retreat this weekend in . . . ."  No way.  I don't know those guys and I don't like being locked up with a lot of folks I don't know.  There's a reason that I think the Desert Fathers are really cool where others like big communities of people.  Indeed, I'm so introverted that I've declined being a "greeter".  Greeters are people who are stationed at the entrances of churches as extroverts strongly believe that everyone entering a church needs to be greeted.  I try to avoid greeters if I don't personally know them as the "welcome!" and smile just appear to be invitations to me to get into a conversation that I don't want to get into on my way into church.  Being a greeter would have been a nightmare to me and I honestly simply told the person that.  She was likely surprised (and perhaps didn't believe me, maybe) as I'm a lector, and to extroverts that would seem inconsistent.  It doesn't to introverts.

Apparently all of this is highly common for introverts, and the explanation apparently is that we're wired to be really "on" in these situation in away most people aren't. While other people are decompressing by chatting, we're basically physically in the same place a lion is when its about to spring on a gazelle.  But nobody wants to be in that spot all the time. While others are engaged in light chatting, we're engaged in listening to every sentence, every pause in every sentence, and everything going on, analyzing it all in rapid succession.  When other are sad when the party ends, we're glad, its such a relief.

An interesting aspect of this is that people who know and are friends with introverts will often try to bring them "out of their shell", and according to some this is a good thing.  Left to ourselves, we'd tend to isolate ourselves, which we are told is not a good thing.  Who knows.

It's hard to tell, but as low as 16%, or as many as 50% of the population is introverted in varying degrees.  That means, of course, from 50% to 74% of the population is extroverted.  I have no ability to really tell where things really fall, but my guess is that well over half the population is extroverted.  Indeed, while I certainly know other introverts, amongst those I immediately deal with, I think only me, one person I know and work with, and some of the immediate members of my family are introverts.

I know that some members of my immediate family are.  That leads me to suspect its a genetic trait.  My father, who was an absolute genius, and who also dealt with members of the public all day long, was very introverted.  Probably few people outside of the immediate family knew that however as, like me, during the day, he was on and had to be.  My son is pretty clearly an introvert, but not as bad as I am.

Well, bad is the wrong word really.  It is just one of those things that is.  And probably for a reason.  Nature probably wanted a certain percentage of people to click on in an intense way most of the time, and that's how most of my interior life is.  I tend to be thinking all the time.  I don't like engaging in small talk as none of it is small to me.  If people complain about a problem my mind turns to solving it, and that's how most introverts are.  But by the same token you can't solve all the problems with a lot of background information going on, so we tend to crave that silent room. And, by the same token, being in a world where all problems must be solved, and apparently you must solve them as why else would people bring them to you, means that you would like a little alone time, and sometimes that means you are happy enough just sitting there saying nothing at all.


Rich said...

If you hadn't already guessed I'd characterize myself as an introvert and this is a good explanation of how I typically see the world.

I've never thought about it before, but the part of the last paragraph about "...I don't like engaging in small talk as none of it is small to me. If people complain about a problem my mind turns to solving it..." really rings true.

As weird as it sounds, I'd like to think that more than 16% of people are introverted. It's difficult to imagine that 84% of people find it enjoyable to chit-chat with the guy behind the cash register at Walmart.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

"It's difficult to imagine that 84% of people find it enjoyable to chit-chat with the guy behind the cash register at Walmart."

Me too, although I wonder. I'll sometimes get in the line of the chatty clerk at hte grocery store and find myself in dread just waiting for my turn as the prior couple of people engage in all sorts of small talk. Then it'll be my turn.

Clerk: "Pasta and sauce? Looks like you are having Italian tonight!"
Me: "Um, yes."
Clerk: "Have you seen that great new movie about romance in the Italian Alps?"
Me, silently: "Oh no."

Rich said...

A typical scenario for me is like the time I read about training cows to eat weeds by going through a process of exposing them to weeds sprayed with molasses over a week or so.

Months later, I finally remembered to actually look for a small jar of molasses at the store and as soon as I plunked it down on the counter the clerk asked me what I was going to do with molasses.

I didn't really want to go into a long, detailed explanation about trying to train cattle to eat weeds, and didn't think a short answer like "I'm gonna spray some weeds with it" would end the conversation anytime soon, so I just said, "I don't know, it was on the shopping list I was given so I'm buying it".

I sometimes wonder how pro-small-talkers answer those sort of questions.

In case you're wondering, I haven't gotten around to trying to train some weed eating cows yet. Hopefully I'll remember to try it with a few bred heifers this spring.

And, molasses has a pretty "unique" taste that might take some getting used to if you were thinking about trying it on your pancakes or oatmeal.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

That is a classic!

On molasses, for some reason when I was a kid my parents had a jar of it for the longest time. Growing curious about it, I finally tried it on something. Ack! I can still recall the strong taste quite distinctly and that's a long time back.

One of our local grocery stores has a clerk who is perpetually in a bad mood whom I actually work to avoid going to if at all possible. She will engage you in conversation every single time and its always a foil to complain about her day.

I have never worked in a store and I have no idea what its like. But I know that she conceives of her life in the store, or maybe just her life, as incredibly burdened. It always starts off with the perfunctory (from her) "How are you?" and I always give the perfunctory "Fine, how are you?" before I catch myself. I'm never prepared for the "Ohhh, four more hours until I'm done etc. etc."

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with any of that. So now I'm burdened with this ladies' perception when I can't do anything about it, and she probably just enjoys complaining. So I simply try to avoid her entirely.