Source: Max Pixel
“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
–Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
Why has introversion been so neglected in our society and relegated to the metaphorical back of the bus? Susan Cain rightly points out one major culprit: the 20th century creation of the ‘extrovert ideal.’ Originating in the advertising age’s obsession with marketing, charisma, and networking, this cultural shift promoted an illusory notion that strong leaders, successful workers, and good people were those who cultivated social savoir-faire. They knew how to schmooze their way into making more friendships, relationships, and business opportunities happen, and as a result, the spoils of society would fall into their laps. Psychology’s first self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, championed this notion, feeding the transformation of a culture based on character to one of personality.
The other more shadowy culprit is psychology itself. As trailblazing and introspective as Freud was in plumbing the depths of the psyche-the inner world of dreams, wishes, and fears-his vision of psychological well-being and maturity rests squarely on an extrovert foundation. For Freud, the highest good was to sublimate one’s inner stuff into civilized and socially productive compromises and to grow up into mature adulthood. Imagination and fantasy were considered relics of a primitive, childish, unenlightened, and even savage past. Without proper transformation, fantasy was on its best day viewed as a paltry substitute for the real thing, and on its worst, just plain pathological.
This vision haunts us to this day and is the source of much confusion for both introverts and extroverts alike. Why? Because it has made so many of us forget that introversion is where we all start from. It is our true and first home.
We all possess and grow out of an introverted core. It is the place where our artist selves originate, the space where our feelings and thoughts run wild and the oasis to which we return when we desperately need replenishing. It comes as a surprise to many that our social selves come after and out of this introverted soil, and that they originates as secondary characters.
Our extroverted sides-our social selves-enable us to connect, collaborate, and build wondrous new possibilities together, whether that is in our families, friendships, business relationships, or romantic lives. Not only does this free us from our existential isolation and give us a sense of belonging and bigness that we can’t experience on our own, it also inspires us to create new cultural and technological possibilities. But there’s a catch and price here too.
Socializing requires us to compromise, conform, and at times betray that which we are truly feeling in our heart of hearts. In entails joining in the social game with its funny rules of fibbing, stretching, and even outright lying in order to maintain membership. In order to get along, belong, or be witnessed, we can, all to easily, sacrifice valuable sides of that introverted core, and unknowingly give ourselves away.
With a culture that has made extroversion and socializing the ‘thing’ itself-the greatest good-it is so easy to lose touch with and dilute the true source of vitality, wisdom, and creativity: our introverted wellspring. Carl Jung saw this problem early on and attempted to correct Freud’s one-sidedness. He studied introversion and extroversion to understand their differences, and to recalibrate the yin and yang balance between the inner and outer worlds. Unfortunately, it has become all to easy, for many, including extroverts, to confuse the persona-the mask-for what is animating it from behind-the soul-the source of the voice itself.
Introversion is our essence. It is the base camp from which we can connect most truly and deeply with ourselves, others, and the world. It is high time that we return home, and heed introversion’s call. As Ray Bradbury suggests, it is the only way, not only of living a creative life, but also of living a sane and fulfilled one.