Saturday, March 28, 2009

Introversion

One of the things that unschooling/uncollege/unjobbing has allowed me to learn about myself is that the more I'm able to live inside my own head, to ignore time and appearances and the parts of the outside world that aren't useful to me at the moment, the better I am. I'm more creative, calmer, wiser, more able to help people. I think more deeply and learn much faster, and I just all around have more energy and enthusiasm and light.

Everything in mainstream society says to live the opposite way. Be extroverted, be alert, be aware. Manage your time, follow a schedule, have an active social life. Never stop being aware of what others are doing, but never stop to think about what they're feeling. Never stop to think about what you're feeling either. Focus on the external; be neat and look tidy. Be productive. Go, go, go.

This is all fine if that's the personality you have. But for a lot of people, living that way is so counterintuitive that it crushes the real person they are. Focusing inwardly comes naturally; focusing outwardly takes some effort at best. At worst it is so mentally exhausting that it deprives that person of the chance for an original thought.

It also deprives the world of the original thoughts that person would otherwise have.

Autism is an extreme version of this personality, but it's not just people on the spectrum who feel this way. When my friends and I - some with autistic shadow traits, some without - all took the Myers-Briggs personality test, a majority of us came up as INFP, or Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiving. This relatively uncommon personality type means that we are the most introverted of the introverts. INFPs tend to be artists, writers, philosophers, musicians or particularly gentle stay-at-home parents. We and other introverts are the people who, as children, would sit at a window and just watch the birds for hours while we dreamed our dreams and pondered the ways of the world.

Unfortunately, mainstream society seems to have forgotten that the world needs such people. The internet has helped, but we are still discouraged, sometimes from birth, from being who we are. Stop daydreaming. You can't make a living as an artist. Get your nose out of that book. How will you ever get a date? Even if we have supportive parents, most schools are set up so that introverts get ignored while the teacher deals with the louder children (who, I hasten to point out, have their own set of prejudices to struggle against), or bullied and treated as outcasts. When we grow up, we find that the biggest key to getting the job we want - or the one we've settled for, after being convinced that the one we want is impractical - is not our talent or experience, but an interview that tests our social skills more than our job skills. If we want to date, we must either endure noisy clubs that make us feel awkward and unlikeable, or shell out hundreds of dollars for a website to tell us who we're supposed to love.

There is no easy solution to this, just as there is no easy solution to any other prejudice that's built into the collective unconscious of a society. But there are things you can do to help change things, bit by bit:

Those of you who are extroverts, recognize that not everyone thinks or feels the same way you do. If someone seems disheveled, or flighty, or awkward, remember that their best side might just be the inside, and that you haven't seen it yet.

Those of you who are unschoolers, take extra joy in the fact that your children can live on any schedule they please, and that this could be the thing that makes or breaks their confidence and self-expression.

And those of you who are introverts, recognize that what you can offer the world is valuable. That all the things you've been told about how lazy or impractical you are, were told to you by people who didn't understand what you do best. It's true that following your dreams may take more thought than going along with the mainstream. But dreaming, and reaching for dreams, is what you were born to do.

And for everyone: Always remember that your dream is someone else's dream too. Someone out there - maybe even someone you'll never meet - may gain faith from your faith in yourself. And even if your goal is only your own happiness, it's a worthy goal.

No act that adds more joy, more hope and more love to the world can be called selfish.

2 comments:

Working Rachel said...

Hi, just found your blog...I think maybe through an unschooling carnival from last week? I have really been enjoying reading the archives. This in particular is a beautiful post.

jill said...

love this post :)