Take a moment to think back to freshman orientation: Tribal screams pouring forth from every corner of campus, 4 a.m. nights followed closely by 7 a.m. wake-ups, mixers that left you dizzy. Or, as I like to think of it, chaos draped in green and gold. And the key to survival? Extroversion.
For five days, I donned a false persona as I tried to fit into the orientation culture, which seemed to celebrate social insanity. If you weren’t in the lounge till dawn, spilling out your life story to people you had met that morning, then something was seriously wrong with you.
So I grinned until my face hurt. I introduced myself to everyone I saw. By the end of the week, however, my body ached and my head whirred. I was downright exhausted. I also realized that I hadn’t made any real friends, because the entire time, I had been pretending to be someone I’m not. But why?
The answer is that American society praises extroversion. Meanwhile, introversion is stigmatized. As an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education put it, we misunderstand that to be extroverted or introverted is to be “cool, popular, and successful or weird, isolated, and a failure.” As students coming to the College for the first time, we naturally wanted to establish ourselves as the former, and thereby avoid the negative connotations associated with being labeled an introvert.
What’s the difference anyway? Extroverts are social butterflies; that is, they’re talkative and prefer large groups of people. Introverts, on the other hand, are more reserved, pay careful attention to the “think before you speak” dogma, and tend to favor fewer, but more intimate, friendships. They also require alone time, or else they might combust.
Our society is geared toward extroverts to the extent that we see excessive discrimination against introverts. We repeatedly receive the message that if we desire social acceptance, then we must remove the filter between mind and mouth, thrust ourselves into large group situations, and force every ounce of energy into social interactions. Likewise, we must convince potential employers that we are highly personable, and to receive a good grade in a discussion-oriented class, we must calm our nerves and speak up — a lot. For some, this all comes naturally, but for many, including myself, it can be a struggle.
The result is that introverts must conform to society’s standards. Our culture requires that introverts suppress their true personality, which ultimately leads to unhappiness.
It can also lead to hardship. Recently, I submitted a summer job application, which to my surprise included a personality test. Not a personal statement or a place to write about past experiences, but an hour-long personality test, which was obviously designed to measure the extent of one’s extroversion. Now, that’s just not fair. As long as I’m not a raging misanthropist — which is only when I’m driving — whether I’m naturally a “people person” should by no means affect my minimum-wage job.
The harmful prejudice doesn’t stop there; it extends beyond the social and professional realms and into academia. With an ever-increasing emphasis on classroom discussion, introverts, who tend to thrive with pen and paper, must shift their talents to oral communication. This is especially apparent in graduate school, where small seminars reign and students must often teach for the first time.
So what can we do to help? Well, we can’t change society’s negative views toward introverts overnight, nor can we fix the issues involved with securing a job or a graduate degree, but we can start by individually ridding ourselves of preconceptions about introverts. They may decline going out in favor of a good book but that doesn’t make them any less loveable. Let’s also not forget that prejudice goes both ways: I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes think extroverts’ brains aren’t wired quite right.
Remember: The world needs both.