As introverts, we’re all too familiar with the perils of being in the minority on the temperament spectrum. We are not just misunderstood, but labeled as pathological and deviant. Teachers warn parents that we are “too quiet,” that we “lack social skills” and “fail to participate” in group discussions. Extroverts describe us as “weird,” “stuck up,” or “self absorbed.” We are sent to psychologists who warn that our introversion is an obstacle to career success and design exercises for us to “come out of your shell.”
I can’t help but wonder, then, what would be the experience of extroverts if they were the minority temperament? What if introversion and introverted values and culture were the expected norm? Imagine a world where “normal” was defined as quiet, introspective, and serious and we had no comprehension that it could also extend to loud, hyper-social, and jubilant?
When I imagine such a society in the U.S., this is the scenario that comes to mind.
David’s parents consider him a problem child with discipline issues. They constantly scold him for screaming and yelling instead of speaking in a “normal” voice. His enjoyment of noise is an ever-present source of conflict with other family members. Exasperated, his parents try to punish him for being so loud and inconsiderate by banning him from the sanctuary of his room during the day; but this does not phase David because he always prefers to be in the common areas anyway.
Everyone is tired of David’s endless pleas to go out. He complains about being “stuck in the house” and is always begging to go somewhere, anywhere. But when they do take him out to a restaurant or an entertainment venue, he embarrasses everyone with his misbehavior. He accosts strangers with small talk and personal questions. And his jubilant outbursts are so loud and disruptive that people turn their heads and glare.
David’s parents allow him to play on his middle school’s basketball team, but are disappointed that he is sometimes disciplined by the coach and seems to have made no friends on the team. He describes his teammates as “no fun” and they seem to share the same opinion of him.
A Wary Teacher
Janice’s teacher is concerned about her. She is increasingly falling into that small group of students that seems to plague every class — a loud, disobedient, clique that struggles academically and is always in trouble. It is this clique that is always getting punished for talking during class, fidgeting endlessly in their chairs, and engaging in shoving, horse-play, and boisterous pandemonium on the play ground.
Janice has been repeatedly disciplined for her conduct and inattention in class. She was even banned from spending her recess indoors in the private “sanctuary” spaces; but that did not phase her as she never used them anyway.
So the teacher brings her concerns to Janice’s parents. She tells them that kids like Janice are well-known in the educational establishment. Their inattention and disruption in class leads them into academic and disciplinary jeopardy. And like her small clique of friends, Janice is socially awkward and not liked by the majority of students. She constantly interrupts their conversations with silly banter and ploys for attention. She is highly excitable and monopolizes any discussion. The other kids are always telling her to “shut up!”
A Well-Meaning Counselor
Perry’s mother is psyched. Despite years of disciplinary and social problems, Perry’s grades and PSAT scores have placed him competitively among his peers. Perry wants to go away to a state university and study political science. He makes no secret of the fact that one day he wants to run for office. She hopes to see Perry one day as mayor, or even governor!
But there’s a problem. Perry’s guidance counselor, whom she has unfortunately become very familiar with, has called her in for a conference. The counselor assures her it’s nothing Perry has done. What concerns him now is Perry’s acceptance at college. Many universities, he explains, are wary of applicants who demonstrate hyper-social tendencies, and Perry’s high-school record is one of those that may trigger that suspicion. He has a lot of extra-curricular activities, none of which are individual or intellectual in nature. If Perry had been on the debate team, performed concerts on the piano, or written a winning science paper, he might look better to admissions staffs. Unfortunately, his application lists exclusively social, non-academic activities, like the baseball team, Booster Club, and Social Action Committee.
The counselor continues to explain that these students tend to have a high degree of extroversion. And while some extroverts do well in college, most freshmen who flunk out have been found to fall into this problematic social category. On campuses, finally freed from the constraints of parental authority, they coalesce into informal, deviant social groups and fall into a frenzy of parties, extra-curricular events, and obsessive socializing. Their grades suffer and many of them are put under academic suspension or flunk out entirely during their freshman year.
He recommends that Perry may want to omit some of his social extra-curriculars from his applications, and pick up some more academic and individual activities during his senior year. This will reassure colleges that he is a “more rounded” student and make them more willing to take a chance on him.
A Troubled Employee
Janice sighs. She has just been given her performance feed-back from her boss, and it was, well, a mixed bag. While her boss cited her exemplary mentoring of new staff and praised her role in forging working relationships with other organizations within the company, there were also problems.
Specifically, she and David continued to create a noise problem for the office. Even after their desks had been separated to “break them up,” they still regularly visited each other and engaged in loud, disruptive conversations about non-work related topics. People were still complaining that they were “disrupting concentration,” and preventing them from working. Also, she had a reputation for interrupting business conversations with “silliness and banter.” And finally, her tendency to monopolize the discussion in meetings had led to a strict five-minute limit being imposed on her input.
When she had suggested that perhaps a “break room” could be created so employees could have a place to socialize, be loud, and just let off steam, he had looked at her with a puzzled expression. Instead, he referred her to the company’s Employee Assistance Office, which, he explained, had a program that could teach her how to “keep your thoughts inside your head.”
Commiserating over their performance feedback, David and Janice scream their frustrations into an rapidly emptying bottle of wine. They bond over how sick they are of this suffocating silence that seems to have the whole world in it’s icy grip. They bash the long-faced, solemn zombies who want to quash any sound louder than a whisper and wouldn’t know fun if it bought them a drink at the bar. Because even when they laugh they do it quietly, like they’re afraid somebody else is going to hear it!
Why is it such a crime to scream and shriek and babble to your heart’s content? Why does everything have to be so fricking serious? Why can’t they just lighten up and let it out?
Together, they conjure up a dream world — where talking is expected, noise is celebrated, and parties, small talk, and laughter are the norm! They even consider forming an advocacy group for people like themselves. Maybe if they organized, they could convince people that there was nothing “wrong” with them. Then one day they may finally be understood and accepted.
In that dream they would no longer be disappointing deviants. In that world they could finally be and celebrate themselves.