(This post has a definite US slant, simply because that’s the only country whose culture I’ve experienced firsthand. I suspect it’s different elsewhere – feel free to comment.)
This all started from a comment made by DNi on my post, Personal Privilege List. I started thinking about it, then some stuff happened, then I thought some more, and then I reached a conclusion: yes, there is a definite privilege extended to extroverts for no good reason.
First, a definition session since people often use “introverted” to mean shy and “extroverted” to mean friendly. It’s not that simple. Extroverts are people who need external stimulation from others. Introverts are people who are stimulated by their own thoughts and ideas, and sometimes need to limit external input because they’ve got so much going on internally.
When I tell people I’m introverted or that I enjoy time alone, I tend to get a couple of negative responses. The first is boredom, because I’m talking to an extrovert and my response to “what did you do this weekend?” isn’t providing them any external stimulation. They have every right to find me dull. Unfortunately, society takes it one step further, inviting them to judge me as lesser because I don’t provide the stimulation they want. It’s considered normal that introverted kids who do well in school – “nerds” or “geeks” – should be bullied by extroverted jocks or popular girls. It’s considered okay to promote a less qualified employee with a “better personality” (read “extrovert”). And so on.
The other negative reaction I get is the assumption that I’m emotionally damaged, and that’s why I’m introverted. This assumption rests on the assumption that everyone is naturally extroverted. In fact, there’s data to indicate that extroverts and introverts may simply be wired differently; brain chemicals in introverts may simply be a lot more active than in extroverts. They’re more often in output mode than input, while extroverts are the other way around.
Furthermore, while I agree that emotional damage can lead to introversion, in my observation it leads to extraversion even more often. Ever met someone who can barely function without a romantic partner? Will lie to people to maintain friendships just so they always have someone to hang out with? Constantly steps on people to get with a “better” crowd? These aren’t exactly functional examples of extraversion. And what about functional introversion? Introverts are less likely to engage in damaging relationships because they’re content to be alone. They’re less likely to get bored and frustrated when there’s not much going on. They’re not going to create drama just to get something going on.
As I see it, the world needs both kinds of people. My theory on why extraversion is considered normal and introversion aberrant in the US is that introverts are independent thinkers, and that doesn’t make for good little consumers, obsessed with “keeping up with the Joneses”. It doesn’t make for the preferred type of voter, either – one who puts candidate likability ahead of capability. One who votes for what their friends or family vote for, instead of examining the issues. Introverts are likely to notice those rather simple solutions you’ve been avoiding out of laziness or because your real motive has yet to be revealed.
And most offensive of all, introverts don’t want your approval badly enough to torture themselves to get it.