Society Needs Both Introverts and Extroverts to Keep Things Interesting


Unapproachable. Unfriendly. Antisocial. All of these words are commonly associated with a word that is often perceived negatively itself: introversion. It’s strange to think that being identified as an introvert can carry these negative connotations, especially when you think about the fact that author Susan Cain, whose New York Times-bestselling and TED talk-inspiring book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” estimates that at least a third of the population is introverted.

From literary masterminds and film directors to civil rights activists and scientists, introverts have made their mark on society. (Chuck Todd/MCT)

Western culture praises extroversion. Extroversion is typically associated with positive traits like success and popularity, while introversion is typically associated with shyness and social awkwardness. But what is introversion? Like many negatively perceived things, introversion is misunderstood. What introversion and extroversion are more about is how and where one focuses one’s energy and from where one gains one’s energy.

Whereas an extrovert is more externally oriented toward the world around them, an introvert is more inwardly focused toward the world inside them. So a naturally extroverted person typically gains energy by being with people and finds being alone draining, and a more introverted person might find too much interaction draining and need more alone time to recharge. Being an introvert does not necessarily mean, then, that you don’t like people. Introverts can also be successful and popular. And extroverts can also be shy and socially awkward.

I identify as an introvert, and for the longest time, I felt strange and removed from other people, isolated by my own nature. I have often been misinterpreted as unfriendly when I’m simply lost in my thoughts. I’ve been publicly singled out and embarrassed for not talking much or participating in group activities. But I don’t see my innate nature as weird or shameful or a bad thing. Sometimes I prefer to observe rather than participate. I certainly enjoy other people’s company, but selectively and in degrees. This does not mean I do not engage with the world or isolate myself from it. I merely engage with it in a different way. I perceive the external world through the lens of my interior.

New York is an interesting place in which to consider the introvert dynamic. The city is a place of unique diversity which brings people of all types together. There are so many people here that the city has become known for being a place where you can be alone in a crowd. People walk past each other, brush against each other, yet how often do they actually talk to one another and avoid eye contact on the subway? On the flip side, so much of city life revolves around the culture of “going out” to clubs, bars, parties (drinking in general), etc.

The culture of New York seeps into Fordham. So many conversations I hear revolve around going out. Yet one of the most common complaints I hear about Fordham is how hard it is to make friends here. Commuters find it hard to make friends if they leave campus and just go home after class, and residents find it hard to make friends with a strict closed-door policy, which results in a more shut-off, impenetrable dorm environment where people are contained in their respective rooms and often choose to stay there.

Many of the concerns that come up in talking about introversion are issues that have become especially central in and relevant to the culture of our generation. How many people don’t feel awkward or worry about being socially awkward on a daily basis? The fact that being “awkward” is such a common subject of our humor nowadays is a good indicator of the answer to this question. How often do we complain about weird roommates who sit in their rooms all day? Yet the rise of texting, Facebook, and other forms of technological communication that remove the face-to-face component of our social interactions contribute to this paradox.

The key value I see in recognizing the difference of introversion is that it is part of a natural behavioral spectrum. Introversion and extroversion are not absolute; everyone has introverted traits and extroverted traits to some degree. It all depends on the individual and the degree of each. Introverts enjoy parties, and extroverts enjoy solitude.

The thing to take away from introversion is that instead of stereotyping, we need to respect each other’s differences as people. We can be most productive as a society when we allow for different types of individual preferences in methods of functioning. Extroverts certainly have talents that allow them to contribute to society in a clear way: great people skills, boldness, leadership. But introverts also have special talents to contribute as well, such as a unique creativity and focus that grows out of introspection, and a powerful way of quietly dissipating their ideas and connecting with people.

Without introverts, society would not have the first Apple computer (Steve Wozniak), Google (Larry Page), certain social movements (Gandhi, Rosa Parks), fantastic stories (J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss) or the theories of evolution (Charles Darwin) and relativity (Albert Einstein). Accepting the method that is conducive to our natural states of being and builds upon, rather than frustrates, the natural strengths and talents that come with them, is the key to success and personal and social fulfillment.