Words by Helena (she/her), 20 QLD
From an incredibly young age, we are forcibly indoctrinated into a world of extroverts.
Before we even have the language to consciously process what we are doing, we all internalise a bias that privileges extroversion as the correct way to be. Quietness is pathologised and treated as a character flaw, one that must be expunged early on to create a uniform society of big personalities and loudspeakers.
Weekly show-and-tells in kindergarten morph into forced collaborative learning, group projects, and public speaking tasks as schooling years continue. Even at the university level, necessary marks become allocated to verbal class participation and groupwork assignments.
In a world designed for extroverts, naturally introverted people are constantly receiving the message that they have less value. They either face ridicule and exclusion for adhering to their nature, or the immense internal stress of self-negation as they try their hardest to conform.
This attitude continues most palpably in the workplace, where magnetism and charisma are highly valued traits and become prognostic of success. In a fast-paced and competitive world where we are constantly speaking over each other, the loudest voices are unswervingly privileged. Elevating teamwork and collaboration above all else favours the dominant extrovert, with the quietly well-informed perceived as less intelligent and less creative in these interactive spaces.
It can be extremely difficult to be an introvert in a world that generally only works smoothly for extroverts. You are expected to be outgoing, speak assertively, and perform best in large groups – an incredibly mentally and physically straining experience when you are not naturally wired for it.
It’s unsurprising, then, that social anxiety is often a close companion to introversion. Although not all introverts have social anxiety, for many it is an inescapable side effect of feeling a constant obligation to prove ones’ self-worth in the social realm – having to either explain and excuse your nature or fight tooth and nail to subvert it.
However, introverts are incredibly powerful in their own right and possess unique traits that should be harnessed rather than suppressed.
Introverts are naturally adept when it comes to active and engaged listening. As extroverts process information interactively, they are more inclined to jump into conversation before fully processing what has been said. Introverts, on the other hand, process information internally, taking a longer timeframe to process and understand ideas in a thoughtful way before responding. This skill allows them to hear, understand, and provide carefully contemplated insight when they do respond.
As introverts are generally more comfortable with listening than speaking, they choose their words wisely and with care. This means that introverts can often have far greater impact with their words, as they speak when they have something of value to say.
Observation skills are also often heightened in those who are quieter. They have a greater ability to read the room, noticing smaller details in body language and facial expressions that others miss as they are talking and processing out loud. This makes introverts often especially empathetic, compassionate and sensitive people who are aware of the emotions and dynamics at play around them.
Although it may seem as though introverts are just sitting quietly in a classroom, meeting or social setting, they are actually soaking in all the information being presented and analysing it critically.
Introversion is an immensely valuable capacity that fuels creativity, compassion, and the ability to produce independent and complex thought. We as a society should embrace the quiet power of introverts, allowing introverts to achieve by honing their natural strengths and harnessing their unique abilities.
We must not place a focus in schools and workplaces on forcing people into fake extroversion in order to achieve future success, but rather redefine the societal criteria and prerequisites for success. We must not favour a person of action over a person of contemplation, but rather use their equal personal strengths to create more holistic working environments.
It is fundamentally flawed to organise a society in a manner that depletes the energy and neglects the power of half of the population. As not all creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place, we must reject the notion that spaces should be designed to benefit extroverts alone, and instead create more dynamic institutions that allow for both groups to flourish.
No one should be ashamed of or made to feel insecure about their introversion. As introverts, we must have the courage to speak softly, accepting ourselves as we are and harnessing our own form of power for whatever ends we may choose.