Archive for March, 2012

Confessions of an Introvert

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The other night my friend John called me and I almost didn’t answer the phone. Each time I see “incoming call” on my phone I always hesitate. When my phone rings I always have the urge to run away from it or make excuses as to why I should not answer it.

I only answered because it was John and I had not spoken with him in a few weeks and, in the end, I was glad I did because we made plans to hang out at another time.

But the reason that I react this way to a simple phone call is because I’m an introvert. No, I am not antisocial because that behavior is antagonistic toward social situations, and to be truthful, I do my best to avoid conflict. I just prefer to be in solitude.

Introverts are not any of the following:

  • antisocial (aggressive/antagonistic)
  • maladroit  (we do like people, actually.)
  • shy (because shyness is anxiety about social situations and we are not necessarily anxious, we just get exhausted being around people)
  • Awkward (Introverts are not socially awkward. When you look up “introvert” it does not come with the words “socially awkward”. I think social awkwardness is just a matter of immature or maladjusted social awareness, and introverts are not maladjusted or immature by definition.)

Simply put, introverts are people who get tired of being around people. We do not gain our energy from being around others, like extroverts do. While both introverts and extroverts need “alone time”, introverts thrive on alone time.

But the truth of the matter is that much of the world is, or at least appears to be, extroverted. Also, society loves extroverts and much of the functions and activities of society is geared toward extroverted personalities. How wonderful.

Recently, I lamented with my friend Anthony about how though there has been talk of introverts in the news lately because of Susan Cain’s book Quiet. Even with this positive publicity, introverts are still misunderstood, ignored, and occasionally maligned by others. I think I even said introverts are “hopelessly maligned”, which sounds severe, I admit, but I think it is at least mostly true because it seems as if the “battle” between introvert and extrovert is a battle you just can’t win. In fact, Doc Mara once told me this and I nodded and understood, though I really had no idea as to the truth in his comment. Now, I think I am beginning to understand.

One of the reasons I am interested in voice comes out from being an introvert. I am the kind of person who thinks about if what she is about to say has value at all. If I am in a seminar class, I worry that I don’t talk enough and if I talk more than usual I can’t help but wonder if I have spoken up too often. But my main concern is always the relevance of my comments because I hate talking just to talk. When I speak to my students in the classroom, I am always careful about how I word things, so I realize I probably talk slower than many of their other professors who are extroverts and so easily go from one thing to another in a fluid manner.

That is the greatest thing I admire about extroverts—their almost spontaneous fluidity along with the fact that they are amazingly quick thinkers. It takes me a long time to make a decision, for example, but an extrovert will come to a decision almost immediately. Extroverts, I admire your quick responses. Seriously. Bravo.

And so when I showed a video in class today, which was Michael Strand’s discussion titled “Between Spaces: Art, Craft and Humanity” I noticed the first thing he identified with was being an extrovert. He talked about how he is the annoying type of person who wants to talk to you and get to know you, even if it is only for two minutes. He said, “I love people.”

Yes, we introverts also love people, but don’t think poorly of us if we don’t talk to you. We love people for the potential that people have to be creative, thoughtful, wonderful individuals, but just because we think these things doesn’t mean we want to hang out or even form a friendship with someone. Introverts, or at least I am, are notoriously picky about the friendships they choose to invest time in. (Note: if we choose not to be your friend or hang out with you, it does not mean you are a bad or inferior person.) Don’t think we are being maladroit or antisocial if we don’t come to your party because we probably have been at work or school all day and we are tired of people, or perhaps we have seen you all week and want the weekend to ourselves. If you walk past us in a crowded room (or even in a room that is not crowded), don’t be upset if we don’t notice you in enough time to say hello. We were thinking about something and perhaps trying to make an important decision or trying to further understand a newly learned concept. The point is that we were not trying to ignore you because we don’t like you or whatever, we just didn’t notice you because we were busy thinking.

I do appreciate Susan Cain’s book, even if it cannot change the world. I doubt it can, honestly, but perhaps giving a little more awareness to a personality type that isn’t the socialized ideal will be beneficial.

And no, I probably don’t want to join your committee or work collaboratively, but realize that it isn’t because I don’t see the value in those things. I do. I think any type of collaborative work has a place and time, however, and most of the time I prefer to work alone and be alone because when working alone I am at my most productive.



When the bullied becomes the bully

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

When I read this article from HuffPo this morning, I was not surprised by the findings. I admit to being bullied as a young person and I admit to being bullied as an adult. While I always thought that after public school bullying would cease, it never completely did. Mature adults do bully other adults, though the bullying is more matured (seems like a contradictory statement, I know) than the bullying of, say, a seventh grader. I’ve noticed that the bullying that occurs between adults is far different and I’ve witnessed multiple occasions where this has happened not only to myself, but to others I know, even in an academic environment where we pride ourselves on being open-minded, encouraging and thoughtful individuals. It happens in the underhanded comment, bullying disguised as humor, or outright aggressive behaviors.

Recently, I had to deal with bullying in my own classroom. During conferences, a student told me that one of the other students in her peer group made her feel “uncomfortable because of sexual jokes” and even going so far as to make fun of her last name. The student confessed that this individual had been in other classes with her and she had worked to mostly avoid this individual (who is another female, by the way, if that matters and I think it does). We talked about it and I have since talked to the student accused of the remarks who claims that is just her “trying to be funny.” I explained it wasn’t funny to her peer group members (I never said who lodged the complaint or made it obvious it was only one individual) and explained that during peer review one should stick to the work involved. I told her humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Though I didn’t disband the group, I thought about it, and if problems continue I will probably have to. But I feel that disbanding the group could make the bullying situation worse as I do believe the student who is the bully knows full well who lodged the complaint. But, at the same time, I can’t help but thinking if it is individualist ideology (solve your own problems) and a type of groupthink (we have to work with all kinds of people, so let’s practice now) that caused that decision and that best practice would just be to separate these students. But for now I am simply keeping a close eye on this group to make sure everything is comfortable for everyone and that peer group is productive and inclusive. I told the student who discussed the situation with me that if it continues, I need to know immediately and I believe she will comply with this.

But I can’t help but feel I could do more or that I have made the wrong decision, and I know it is the bullied individual in me that responds to this so strongly.

I want to tell you I am not a victim of bullying, or at least not the way we have read about it in the news. Think of the suicides that have resulted from bullying, which the documentary Bully in part focuses on. I realize media thrives on hype and groupthink, but the news is disturbing nonetheless. When the shootings were first reported in Ohio earlier this week, many suspected bullying where the bullied became the bully. This certainly happened with Littleton, CO in 1999. I remember when the news broke because I was “sick” that day and I was able to watch the events unfold on CNN in my parents’ living room.

In a way, I doubt many of us are not guilty of bullying to some extent, but there is evidence that suggests bullied kids become bullies as adults, or at least have a higher likelihood of bullying. Part of this is the revenge factor. A bullied kid does desire revenge and that is in part human nature. Another part is the self-esteem issue: we need to belittle someone else in order to raise ourselves, which is really ridiculous if you think about it. Either way, you would think the bullied would be more sympathetic or empathetic to others who are bullied, but not really because being a bully equals power. People like bullies. Look at some of the people who are popular or well liked in the media. I would argue a few of these are bullies. Look at some of the people at work or at school who seem to be admired. Some of these people are also bullies.

But, like I said, bullying in adults is different, much different. As an introvert, I am a keen observer of behavior. I have overheard almost whispered comments or things said under one’s breath about someone. I have seen bullying disguised in humor. I have seen colleagues leave a room laughing together at the expense of another colleague, though I hate to admit this here. This behavior is unacceptable.

I wish I had solutions, but I don’t and I think right now that is what many are searching for: solutions. This occurs through activism and non profit organizations geared toward helping others deal or work through situations regarding bullying. But do I have answers? No, of course not. As I told my friend Anthony recently, people suck. Though I admire people and have so much hope for the creativity and ingenuity of the other humans around me, I realize how cruel people can be. How thoughtless. And I have seen it throughout my whole life and sadly, I don’t expect it to change.

But I do expect we will keep talking about it and trying to do something about it as we build further awareness around it because let’s be honest, this is counterproductive to everything we as humans could achieve together.