An Exploration of Introversion

I know I have already covered the topic of introversion/extroversion once, in my review of Susan Cain’s book. But since this is my blog, if I want to talk about it more, there’s no one stopping me, haha. There are just a lot of thoughts I have on this subject which I feel need to be said.

Firstly, both introverts and extroverts have their own strengths and qualities. Introverts have a harder time because their strengths are less obvious. We all know that extroverts are great speakers. But introverts are good listeners. And if everyone is talking, who’s doing the listening? And introverts, because they are generally more contemplative, tend to have more empathy, or at leaset maybe express it better. So they are better at listening to people who are going through troubles or trials in life. An introvert will tend to realize that this person is in need of a listener and can simply be there for them. Since introverts don’t have such a strong need to express themselves verbally, they can make themselves available as listeners for those who have a desperate need for social communication. Notice that I’m using some qualifying words here because I don’t mean that every introvert and extrovert fits the definitions I’m giving. Just generally speaking. Since introverts don’t want as much external stimulation, their minds are quieter, so to speak, and free from much of the world’s mental clutter. I would speculate that many of the world’s greatest artists were introverts, for this reason. I think it would be hard to be an extroverted writer. Creativity and imagination come mostly in those silent, alone moments, when your mind is at peace to roam the universe. I think the same goes for the sciences. The amount of concentration and dedication required to make scientific advances does not lend itself well to a person who needs a lot of social interaction and stimuli. So introverts and extroverts have their own unique contributions to the world.

Secondly, the valuation of these aforementioned strengths are completely subjective. It seems like our culture often values the contributions of the extrovert more than that of the introvert. It seems more important to be a confident and outspoken social person than to be empathetic, or contemplative, or reserved. But that is a completely arbitrary preference. And it is a bias that pervades our entire culture. Shy children are told that they ought to be more like some other bold and assertive friend. Our society is enamored with Hollywood and sports figures, people who are, for the most part, extroverted. We are persuaded that to be successful we need to have such strong conversational skills that we can chat with any random stranger. These extroverts are admired and held up as the goal for everyone. But just as the purpose of homeschooling is to liberate children from being conformed to a cookie-cutter education, shouldn’t we also accept the different personalities of every person? I mean, honestly, who’s to say that being highly skilled at “small talk” is superior to being able to carry on a more thoughtful and weighty discussion? And who’s to say that being able to be the “life of a party” is superior to being able to sit quietly and read a book for hours on end? Why are shy people praised when they do something outside their comfort zone, but extroverts aren’t encouraged to slow down and have some contemplative alone time?

My whole life is one of challenging the assumptions of our culture. To prove that you don’t need a public education to become well-learned. To prove you don’t need a traditional college education to be successful in life. To prove that liberty and individualism can work if we give it a chance. So now I’m going to set out to prove to the world that it is okay to be an introvert. It is okay to stay at home reading instead of going to a party. It is okay to be different. It is okay to accept yourself and live in a way that is true to who you are, instead of trying to pretend you are an extrovert.

With all of that being said…I want to keep in mind that the ultimate authority on anything is the Word of God. So, what does the Bible say about our duties as Christians and how does this inform our thinking on personality differences?

Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of the Spirit as, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

None of these attributes are extrovert or introvert specific qualities. It really comes down to how we exhibit these fruits. And since love is the overarching virtue of all, we ought to determine the manifestation of these fruits according to the recipient. For instance…if we have a brother or sister in Christ who is going through a trial, we need to determine how we could best minister to that person. If they are introverted, inviting them out to dinner with a large group of friends to “cheer them up” is probably not going to be well-received. But maybe asking them to go out for coffee with one or two close friends may be more of what they need. If the person is an extrovert, they will probably appreciate any attempts to create a high-stimuli environment to cheer them up. And it would be good to create a balance, for instance, if an introvert has suffered a loss of a loved one, they will probably want to withdraw from the world, shut themselves up, and become reclusive. Taken to the extreme, introversion is not good, and someone who sincerely loves them will want to make sure they don’t become completely isolated. Extroverts, when suffering intense sorrow or stress, may indulge in sensory pleasures, such as alcohol, and this is not good either, so a Christian ministering to them would want to try to temper these excessive tendencies and certainly not encourage or tempt them. While that is a more obvious example, it applies to many areas of life.

And this leads to an interesting consideration about the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” If we love others, we need to try to serve them in a way that will meet their needs, which is not necessarily the way we would want to be treated. Just as we want to be respected for who we are, and to be treated according to the kind of person we are, we need to have consideration for the personality of others.

The Bible does not specify how we are to show love or joy or peace, or any of these other qualities. An extrovert will exhibit joy by bouncing up and down and grinning, so to speak. An introvert might show their joy by slightly smiling. Is there anything wrong with either of these approaches? I don’t think so, and the Bible doesn’t tell us either way, so we ought not pass judgement on anyone for how they express the fruits of the Spirit.

Now I want to look more closely at the quality of peace. There are different kinds of peace: peace with God, peace with other people, and also peace with ourselves. I think the first two are fairly easy to understand. As depraved sinners, we are born under God’s wrath and it is only through salvation that we are reconciled to Him. Peace with others means that we are not to stir up dissension unduly. There are times when we must be at odds with other people because standing true to the Word of God is more important than being at peace. This peace does not mean compromising on what is right, but rather accepting and forgiving differences which do not jeopardize the Word of God. The third idea of peace, peace with ourselves, sounds rather New-Age-y so let me explain. Prior to being saved, we are under God’s wrath, and we know it. We spend every moment of our days trying to run away from God. We have no peace within ourselves because we know our guilt and we are trying to surpress it, as Romans 1 explains. Also, we have no peace because we are not doing what we were made to do. Like I recently heard in a sermon, we are trying to saw a piece of wood with a hammer. It won’t work. Our attempts at purpose will be frustrated. So of course we aren’t at peace within because we are wracked with suppressed guilt and the unfulfilled desire for purpose. This internal warfare and disturbance is gone after we are saved. We are at peace with God, we have been humbled and can now happily acknowledge the Lordship of the Creator. We begin to understand the reason for our existence and begin to try to live it out. Of course there is still strife between the old and new man, between our desire to please God and our desire to please ourselves, but there must still be some way to have peace or else Paul would not have mentioned it as a fruit of the Spirit. We primarily find peace by living to glorify God. And again, the Bible does not give us specific instructions for how to do this. We are given general guidelines, such as in the verse above from Galatians. But we must realize that God made each person uniquely and so we each as individuals must have our own unique way to glorify God within the guidelines of the Scriptures. So while one person has been created to glorify God by having a gift for interacting with lots of people and even people they don’t really know, another person might be here for the purpose of developing a deeper friendship with a few individuals. If an introvert is trying to be like an extrovert, they are trying to be something they were not made for. They may not be not fulfilling the purpose of God, and they could easily lose peace within themselves because they sense the futility of what they are doing.

However, we should not use our personalities as an excuse to sin. If someone truly needs us, and we refuse to interact with them because we are introverted, then we are doing wrong. I don’t see the purpose in introverts randomly trying to be like extroverts, just because. But if there is a specific need they ought to meet and it requires sacrificing their alone time, then it seems clear that the Bible requires them to do so. Likewise, if an extrovert sees that someone needs a listener, a friend needs them to simply be there for them, then they need to curb their desire to dominate the conversation and be whatever that person needs. But extroverts should not feel morally compelled to become book-worms, and introverts should not feel like they ought to become extroverts just because that’s how everybody else is. For introverts, time to recharge mentally and emotionally is as important as sleep. We do not hear lectures on how Christians ought to sleep less so that they can serve others more. Now of course this can be misused and people can indulge in slothfulness rather than being active doing God’s work. And it is easy for introverts to use their introversion as an excuse to simply be lazy, so we must always be examining ourselves to determine our true motivation. However, there is no amount of “alone time” which works for everyone. Some need more, some need less, it depends on the person and their particular place in life, and so many other factors. So we must be careful not to judge others by our own experience or decide for them if they need to spend more or less time by themselves based on the amount of “alone time” we need. We would not admire the person who never slept more than two or three hours so that they could do more important things. A parent who forgoes a night’s sleep to nurse their sick child is doing what is right and necessary, but a parent who consistently stays up till 2am and gets up at 5am just so that they can attend to more parental tasks is probably not being wise, and eventually the quality of their work and family time will be jeopardized by their lack of rest. Likewise, an introvert who is not allowed to recharge enough will eventually run out of energy and then they will not be able to help anyone at all. Short-term sacrifices are good, and Christians ought to do so, but just as being sleep-deprived will lead to negative consequences, trying to be a different kind of person in the long-term will rob you of peace and love.

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