The 3 Secret Advantages of IntrovertsNone By Homaira Kabir
We live in a world that idealizes extroversion. For those of us born with a quieter temperament, society doles out treatments, both psychological and pharmaceutical—not to mention a growing array of self-help books promising the latest and the best in curing this "mortifying" malady.
This is a great disservice to a temperament that actually has an evolutionary advantage. Experiments by evolutionary biologists such as David Wilson have shown that most species, including our own, are made up both of “rovers,” those with a strong affinity for novelty, and “sitters”, who prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch. Without the former, we will languish and die. Without the latter, we will not survive the dangers that are part of life.
We notice sitters in the people we know—those who listen carefully, reflect often and prefer to work in solitude. We call them introverts, and sometimes we call them shy. Although there is one important difference between the two—an introvert gets overwhelmed by stimulation whereas a shy person fears negative social judgment—for the most part they overlap. And the reason may well be that society’s negative evaluation of introverts tends to close them down and make them shy.
This is a huge disservice to humanity, and not just to the one third that feels alive and energetic in quiet environments. When we do not value the traits that underlie a sitter temperament, we fail to harness their ability to reflect that may once again hold the key to our evolutionary survival. How? Read on!
Intellect and Creativity
A disposition to consider events, choices and circumstances before rushing to engage with them has led to some of the most intellectual and creative minds of our civilization. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and John Milton were all shy and introverted people. So are Steve Wozniak, the other (unknown) founder of Apple and even J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, and yet their contribution to humanity’s knowledge has been immense. The ability to be comfortable working in silence and solitude produces the kind of focus essential for learning and creating. In the words of science journalist Winifred Gallagher, “Neither E = mc 2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal”!
A Developed Conscience
Both shyness and introversion are about sympathetic nervous system arousal through external social stimuli. However, developmental studies of anxious children show that this fear leads to an effort to fit into the social environment, and thus greater pro-social behaviors such as empathy and compassion. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, and yet sorely lacking in real human contact, these moral traits need to be valued for the difference they can make to the lives of others. Both Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks were painfully shy and introverted people with a strong conscience that gave them the strength to stand up for what they believed in.
A Quiet Ego
Since sitters prefer to watch others before taking action, they develop a willingness to listen to others and gain from their experiences. This gives rise to what psychology professor and author Jack Bauer calls the ‘Quiet Ego’—an ability to routinely turn down the booming volume of egotism and see the world from many perspectives. In the complexities of our day and age, this may be the greatest skill we nurture in order to integrate differentiated parts of our existence and live as a harmonious whole. In many ways, this ability is already reflecting in the millennial generation’s growing desire to transcend self-interest and leave a mark on the world. Encouraging quiet reflection will allow them to take the best they have to offer and pay it back to the world.
Given the many benefits of a shy or introverted personality, isn’t it time we learned to appreciate the sitters among us, to nurture and value their worth so they feel comfortable bringing it out into the world?
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and a Positive Psychology Practitioner, whose work expands the breadth of the human experience. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. You can read more about her work at homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@homairakabir).
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