pop goes the world: the care and feeding of introverts

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  29 December 2011, Thursday

The Care and Feeding of Introverts

You most likely have friends and family members who are usually found in a corner, amusing themselves with a book or headphones, preferring not to mingle with others in raucous banter or other social activity. It might take a lot of prodding before they join in. Often, they resist coercion and show resentment. You might have thought it was something they would outgrow. “Mahiyain,” you might have said. Or “loner”, or “aloof”.

Or, you might think the worst – “hindi siya marunong makisama,” perhaps one of the worst offenses in our collective culture.

Quite likely, those people are none of the things you thought. Like me, they just happen to be introverts.

What is introversion? It is not shyness nor aloofness. It is not social discomfort but social preference. Introverts prefer to be around a few people; being among a crowd drains them. They prefer living in their own inner world, exploring their feelings and thoughts. They’re the readers on the park bench or in the coffee shop.

Extroverts, on the other hand, enjoy being around people. They’re the ones who chat you up on the plane or in a queue. You can tell if a Filipino taxi driver is one or the other. The quiet ones who don’t say a word the whole trip? Introverts. The ones who start gabbing the moment you step in their cab and regale you with their views on politics, showbiz, and religion, who sometimes just won’t shut up? Extroverts.

Image here.

Introverts are said to be between 25-40% of the general population, and to make up the majority – around 60% – of the gifted population. Many creative people I know are introverts; it might be something about being in tune with an inner world that nurtures and ferments the creativity that comes from within. They’re the innovators, thinkers, and doers – Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Mother Teresa, Gandhi.

Studies with twins show that extraversion/introversion may have a genetic component. It’s wired in the brain. Therefore do not try to turn an introvert into an extro – it can’t happen. An introvert may develop good social skills, but his innate preference will remain the same.

When I was much younger I used to go along and let myself be coerced into joining this presentation or attending that party, but I’d seethe with anger and resentment all throughout. I endured this all for the sake of pakikisama.

A friend, once the CEO of a large company who now runs his own business, possessed of decades of management experience, nodded wisely. “Pakikisama bullying,” he calls it. Now I realize pakikisama became a cultural norm because the majority of people in society are extroverts, and getting along and interacting well with others constituted a survival trait.

As I matured I began to understand myself better, and learned to flat out refuse if I didn’t want to do anything. Being forced to do something you don’t want to do results in psychological discomfort. Why endure that?

If you have an introvert in your life – spouse, lover, offspring, other relative, friend – be understanding. Know that not everyone is like you. Allow your introvert “alone” time. He or she doesn’t mean to ignore you, nor does it mean she doesn’t love you – she just needs her personal space and time to connect with that inner world, from which she draws her energy.

Reading at Hill Station Cafe, Baguio City, 30 Nov 2011. No, I”m not ignoring you. Yes, of course I love  you. I’m just low-batt and need to recharge.  

Don’t force your introvert to attend big parties. Arrange small, intimate get-togethers instead. Lunch with three or four people is nice, and maybe coffee after in a small, quiet place where they play jazz at a low volume so you can still hear each other talk. Introverts like to discuss ideas and feelings. Sometimes the constructs in their heads seem more real than what’s outside.

Above all, do not force your introvert to dance, sing, or perform if she does not want to. I used to work in a small industry where I’d emcee or event-manage parties. I wasn’t there as a guest but as staff, so that was “work”. I’d be “on” during those times, like an appliance. Since I wasn’t there to  “party”, I could manage the crowd.

But I moved to a large company in a different sector last year. Both Christmases I’ve been there, I was asked to dance with officemates for the office presentation. I refused. Never force an introvert to do anything they don’t want to; I can’t emphasize this enough. They’ll hate you forever if you do, especially if you do it under the guise of pakikisama.

According to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, there are even different kinds of introverts. I’m the INTP (Introverted-INtutuitive-Thinking-Perceptive) kind, said to be only 2-4% of the population.

INTPs, also called “Architects” or “Engineers” use “intuition to interact with the world…processing information logically and abstractly,” says an online profile. Think Star Trek’s Spock. Capable of deep concentration, INTPs “analyze new ideas till they understand every aspect. Starting with only a vague intuition, an INTP can construct a whole new world of ideas.”

In fact, INTPs are better at designing a complex system than implementing it. We’re the people who can design a plan, and a backup plan, and a backup to the backup plan. Implement it? That’s for you to do, man. Don’t bother me, I’m reading.

Basically, yeah, this is how an INTP rolls. Image here.

A friend who’s an INTJ (the “J” stands for the “Judging”) is like me in many ways, but the “J” function means he makes decisions faster than I can. In Los Angeles a couple years ago, he asked, “Would you rather we go to the Getty Museum now, or have lunch first?” INTPs can argue from all sides. I proceeded to do so. Half an hour later, while I was still weighing the merits of doing either activity first, he was pulling into the parking lot of the Getty. He knew I was dithering, and, being a “J”, made the decision.

My two daughters and ex-husband, are, like myself, “Ps”. When we go out, it takes us a while to decide where to eat. This place has sushi, but the other has the great mashed potatoes…and so on, and on. Finally, one of us, our tummies rumbling, will say, “None of us are Js!” and make a choice.

Much of human communication involves “anxiety reduction” – trying to learn more about the other person to reduce your anxiety about how to interact with him. Knowing a person’s MBTI type helps by giving you a general idea of what a person might be like, and how he might behave in a certain situation. This gives you a certain predictive power that could be useful; more so, say, than knowing their zodiac sign. There are online tests that you can take to find out your MBTI type.

But being aware of something as simple and basic as intro- and extroversion will help you go a long way towards understanding people.

Remember, this new year, be kind and gentle to the introverts in your life, and may 2012 bring us only bigger and brighter blessings!

Now go away. I’m reading. *** 

Einstein drawing bee here. Not only was he an introvert, he was an INTP.  INTP poster here. 

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1 Comment on pop goes the world: the care and feeding of introverts

  1. muirneg
    31 December 2011 at 7:07 am (3108 days ago)

    I’ve diagnosed myself as an introvert and I’ve done the ‘pakikisama’ route, kailangan din kasi sa kultura ng Pinoy . And going by sheer numbers, the introverts most likely just have to hand it over to the extroverts. But ultimately, one needs to be true to oneself, no matter what, which makes for a simpler and more authentic life.
    Great post!

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