TED talks are illuminating. I appreciate most of them and unfortunately it is impossible to follow all of them. But I was drawn by the title “The power of introverts” by Susan Cain. She clarified the concept for me: there is a difference between being shy and being introvert. I already new that both are not the problem our society wants them to be. My favorite Italian pediatrician, a follower of Winnicot’s theories and a radicalist as the likes of Ivan Illich and William Godwin, makes a strong point about it: an introvert or shy kid will most certainly become a gentle person; the opposite is not that obvious.
I’ve grown up knowing I was shy and introvert. At least everybody told me so. A “reserved” personality. Poor guy…. I learned long time ago that this is not a fault but just a characteristic. Susanne Cain goes by great lengths to clarify far better than me how being an introvert is also something that could be an advantage for the person or the team he/she is working with, if only people treat this peculiarity as something normal. But it is clear our society favors other models, the ones who like to be at the center of attention. I’ve seen this at my kid’s school. End of year recitals alway reward the most outgoing kids, the one who like to show off.
This is the society of appearance and a kid like my son does not like to appear. I appreciate it as a virtue but I was born in the 60s. I am much like he is. The teacher went to the point of being worried for my son: he has a great mind, great expression ability but it doesn’t show. I think it does not show because he is required to do it in the wrong environment for him. Of course he is shy and maybe introvert too. But the teacher, older than me, keeps treating it as a problem. An introvert/shy kid has problems in our society because our society is wrong about introverts and shyness. This is the great point in Susan Cain’s talk!
I hate showing off, but still I play guitar in a rock cover band and I have no problems in being on a stage and play solos and sing during gigs. So what’s the difference? If you ask me to speak in public, I start to have problems. I have been teaching science at school and had no problems in talking in front of the students. The same while I lead Aikido classes. But if I have to talk about my scientific research in front of an aggressive audience who is eager to criticize me, I do have problems in speaking in public. When I approach some people I don’t know, or worse when I have to call them over the phone, I still try to avoid this. And as an introvert, I like writing – hence, this blog.
My wife keeps saying she is shy. She actually hates being at the center of attention. If I proposed to her in public, making a big scene out of it, she would have left me on the spot. If we’d merry in the conventional way, with all the attendance cheering us for yet another kiss, she would have hated it (me too). In fact we got married on our own, at New York’s City Hall, with a couple of friends as witnesses. We certainly wouldn’t have liked the whole City as witness and New York was the right place because nobody notices you even if you get on the subway dressed up for your own wedding. Yet, my wife is a great saleswoman, she has absolutely no problems in approaching unknown people and talk openly to them, expressing her own views freely. She is just …shy! She doesn’t like to be at the center of attention, she would rather die than walk on a stage, but one-to-one she is unstoppable. I couldn’t possible do what she does in her job! I tend to keep my interactions with unknown people to the minimum, to the length of asking for directions only when I am really helpless. I have the feeling I am disturbing them. But when I play guitar I do my best when I have a public.
So I came up with this conclusion: I am not shy, I am an introvert; my wife is shy, but she is an extrovert. That’s why we make a great couple (when we are not fighting the shy vs. introvert war 😉 )!