As I have been preparing for a workshop I am giving on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, I am also running across the terms “introvert” and “extrovert.” They aren’t new lables; most people have at least heard them, or even used them to describe themselves or someone else. I have. But I have been so thoroughly intrigued, I have veered my study off-course slightly to investigate. Fascinating. The more I learn, the more I realize we need to stop trying to “fix” people to fit them into our comfort zones. We need to embrace each others’ hard-wiring and move forward together.
My husband and our oldest daughter are extroverts. Big time. They can become buddies with folks they met an hour ago. Come-over-for-dinner buddies. They say hello to every new neighbor as they move in. They are comfortable welcoming each new face in our church congregation. They can strike up a conversation with the other person in the same line at the grocery store (especially if that other person is another extrovert). And they smile for all the world to see. They are able to seem interested in everyone, and love to spend time with others…working, playing, just visiting, whatever. I watch them and marvel at their ease. Parties, meetings, and get-togethers are so invigorating for them. True story: the vast majority of the decorations for my daughter’s wedding reception, which were lovely and more than we could have put together for her, were loaned to us by a sweet woman who shopped at the store where my daughter worked. They had struck up numerous conversations, and found commonalities. When Elly announced her engagement and they got talking about wedding plans, this woman volunteered the decorations (which were in just the right colors). Then, as we stood in line at her reception, I noticed a familiar face come in the door which I was having a hard time placing. Who was it? Turns out Elly had given an invite to the teller at our local credit union. Of course she did. Really? I was flabbergasted! And even more shocked that this gal came. She greeted us as I would expect an old friend to do, and I realized that this is what she and Elly were. Two extroverts who saw each other on a regular basis, in other words, friends.
I am an introvert. While I can enjoy the companionship of others, I recharge most easily by spending time with me. Alone. Filling my bucket can involve reading, watching a documentary, listening to music, cooking, or quietly filing papers in the office. It just needs to be just me. By choice, I have few close friends (but I know I can depend on them when the chips are down!), a number of people with whom I am friendly, and lots of acquaintances. I’m not looking to greatly expand my circle; I like it this way. Needing to make small talk with someone I have never met before is my idea of purgatory. While I love teaching and presenting ideas and skills I have learned with others, I find that too much time surrounded by others makes me tired. Edgy, even. And if I want to send myself into a full-blown fibromyalgia flare, all I need to do is say, “yes” to every request made by every person with whom I rub elbows. This not is not only hard physically, it wipes out any energy reserves I may have managed to save up. Our younger daughter is much like me. She has a few close friends, and a love of quiet, books, and time to think. We can sit and share opinions, thoughts, memories, and quiet for hours. Or take a nap. We’re good at naps. She and her husband may end up in a cabin in the woods raising cows, pigs, and produce and they’ll be happy as can be. They’re both introverts.
Extroverts are enlivened by people. They often find joy in the energy of a crowded room, or the opportunity to welcome a newcomer. They work well in groups, can be easily distracted and spontaneous, and tend to be easy-going and fun to be around. New experiences and opportunities are stimulating, exciting even. Extrovert children need people, group activities, stories about people and adventure, time to ask questions and discuss what they’re learning, and breaks from the norm.
Introverts need solitude to recharge. People drain them, and while they can be great listeners, they aren’t comfortable listening or sharing of themselves all the time. While they have been accused of being self-absorbed, they simply want time to think about what they have learned…about others, about themselves, about life. Joy comes from understanding and exploring the world inside, then they can move outwards. Introvert children enjoy a distraction-free school experience. Routine, minimal unplanned adventures, and time to think about what they are learning.
I must admit, I am duly impressed by the extroverts in my life. (There are quite a few of them.) They help me want to look up and see what lies over the horizon. My fellow introverts help keep me centered, and content with where I am now. We all need a bit of both around us. I guess that’s why the Lord gave us each other.