The “pro-introvert” advice of writings like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking risks manufacturing a class of aberrant individuals with special needs. Cain herself compares introverts to women in a patriarchal world, calling introverts “second-class citizens.” But the intent to help introverts succeed in an insane world is inevitably paralleled by advice to authorities, managers, and bosses on how to best tap the skills and insights of introverts — for the former’s use.
But the mature introvert doesn’t want to succeed in an insane world, and powerful people only want to employ, direct, and socialize with others useful to themselves.
Introversion is a personality characteristic that exists across all cultural and social groups, and largely created by heredity, family, psychological, and social environment in children (especially to age 5 years). Introversion is not pursued consciously as a style but within the persona as integral to the psyche. Other factors in their early lives include treatment by parents, haphazard evolution of self-esteem, slower emergence of social skills, and the development of solitary self-sufficiency in routine pursuits of play and interest in environment.
Introverts understand instinctively the role of these factors in their upbringing and how it limits them in social contexts. But while many introverts may find frustrating their inability to operate smoothly in social contexts, they quickly learn from discomfort that they can survive with a minimum or no such settings. They discover that they can be reconciled to their personality, and, indeed, find strong and fruitful resources to sustain themselves.
Non-introverts sympathetic with the marginalization of introverts in corporate or institutional settings need not fret that introverts are slighted, even punished. Knowing that they cannot coach introverts into behaving like extroverts or even balanced personalities, much well-intentioned advice instead ends up counseling corporate and institutional managers on how to elicit participation from introverts. Much of the practical advice is fair and do-able, and for managers and authorities to realize techniques for eliciting introvert input on group projects and “teamwork” is not unreasonable given the boss’s job. But an important insight is being overlooked in these relationships.
Introverts are frequently excellent critics of what goes on around them. They do not usually voice their views — not only because they are socially uneasy but often because they are not going to accede to group thinking, to organizational goals and objectives to which they ultimately may not subscribe.
Introverts develop their self-image from their own insights, imaginations, and vision — not from their work-for-money efforts or social circles of insiders, intimates, or buddies. In the corporate and work world, introvert know that the efforts are put on for vague social conventions, while workplace maneuvering is often just for private gain. Introverts simply don’t identify with these social methods or private gains. Simply put, smart introverts already know (or are on the way to knowing) themselves and their vision of how things should be, at least for themselves, whether in creative, natural, psychological, or spiritual senses. In nearly every way, these senses or intimations of how things should be in the world (but are not) differ from what a collective social group of any sort can attain, or, further, is even aware.
The appearance of distraction, alienation, lack of cooperation, or just an apparent “attitude” attributed to the introvert when in a social context is not directed against anyone or anything. It is just that introverts are actively tending their gardens while others either think they are ready to harvest or haven’t even planted a seed. Introverts have a low tolerance for small talk.
Pro-introvert advice that cheer-leads the hapless introvert is self-defeating. What can be more frustrating to the introvert in the world than the intransigence of authorities running institutions and organizations is realizing that his or her fate is in the realm of their worse skill, their least interest, namely, of pretending to be other than what one is.