“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.” — Susan Cain
“Why are you so quiet?” Growing up, I heard that question a lot.
“You’re very quiet”. These days it’s more of a statement.
These days the question also becomes, “Why are you so sad?”
And those days the statements used to be “She’s very arrogant.”
I’m an introvert, who is also very shy. A pretty ultimate combo. And no, all introverts are not shy. That’s another discussion. But introverts do tend to be quiet. So here, I wanted to write this for the fellow introverts, hoping you’d know you’re not alone. And for the extroverts, to know that no, we don’t have to “get out of our shell more”. Because, for the longest time I spent my life thinking that I needed to speak more, get out more, be like them more. To the point, I thought there was something wrong with me. Until finally I realized that what I am is an actual introvert, and honestly? I love being an introvert.
I just thought I didn’t because everybody else told me that my ways weren’t right, my being wasn’t right, that I should be more, more like them. How wrong they were. They almost tore me off the essence of my very being. But I’m eternally grateful to God that I realized it all before it got any later. And it’s all thanks to this one book by Susan Cain called ‘Quiet; the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’. I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone to help you understand almost everything that makes an introvert.
First, let’s do away with the technical aspects of it. People generally label extroverts as the party people and introverts as the homebodies. Although those are part of the characteristics, it’s incorrect for that to be the defining one. A precise definition is this; introverts get their energy from solitude while extroverts get it from other people. Which means that introverts get physically tired when mingling with other people for a prolonged period of time and need their time alone to recharge. And the contrary goes to the extroverts (you see where the party people and homebodies definition come from?). Hence, the scale of extraversion as a personality trait (where lower means introvert) really is just identifying the person’s energy source.
Keeping the basic definitions aside, introverts and extroverts of course have their distinct features. The problem is, our society is too catered for the extroverts. For the “outgoing” ones, for the “smart” ones, for the “confident” ones. The thing is introverts can also be smart and confident, just that you probably wouldn’t see it just when you meet them or merely from their appearance. Not recognising you for what you are is one thing, but labelling you something else from an ignorant judgement is a whole other thing. As I mentioned at the start of this write-up, my silence, or rather my quietness, have often been ascribed as arrogance or indifference. When in reality I’m usually just intimidated by the new people or the new environment. And no, if I’m quiet doesn’t mean I’m sad.
Introverts also make up most of the highly sensitive people, which not just mean an emotional sensitivity, but that our brains are highly sensitive. Which means that a small amount is enough to get us stimulated. Which in turn explains why new people and new environment intimidates us in the beginning until we familiarize with them.
Introverts think more deeply, feel emotions more heavily, connect more strongly, and care more empathically. Their high sensitiveness makes them experience everything a touch more intensely than their extrovert counterparts. Which makes it only natural that long interactions with people and conversation make them tired out. Does that mean we don’t like people or conversations? No. On the contrary actually. Introverts tend to have more deep and insightful conversations. And many introverts tend to take up careers that involve working closely with people like psychology, social work, teaching, and so on.
This world has witnessed many quiet leaders that brought knowledge, wisdom, and bravery, from Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt to the extraordinary Rosa Parks who uttered the word ‘no’ to a white bus driver that became revolutionary in the civil rights movement, and many many others. The quiet power of introverts is not that scarcely known actually. Just that they aren’t as loud in the public enough to stand out or even realise they are quiet, to begin with, because more often than not no one expects them to be introverts.
“Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder, to search for the truth. Have holy curiosity. Make your life worth living.” — Albert Einstein
It’s not that we are self-centred, just that we know how to enjoy our own company. It’s not that we don’t have any friends, in fact, we have really strong bonds of relationships, but just that we prefer deeper meaningful conversations than small talk at parties.
The quiet ones are usually the listeners, the counsellors, the fair critiques, the balanced leaders, the behind-the-scenes people. The quiet ones are in fact quiet among the crowd that you won’t often notice them, but you will definitely notice their works, their accomplishments, and their impact. They don’t need the spotlight to make a difference, they don’t compete for the power but for making a difference, they don’t speak to be just heard but to spread knowledge and understanding. They are the epitome of gentle warriors. The calm in the chaos, the slow wind through the loud waves.
You would find introverts giving speeches to a crowd, presenting TED talks, and lecturing a hall full of future leaders. Just that at the end of it all, you’ll find them in their corner, with a book, or a cup of coffee, or herbal tea, or nothing at all, just breathing in their energy from their solitude. And when you find them like that, please don’t assume they are sad, when in reality, it is one of the most content and peaceful part of our days.
There is a distinct difference between alone and lonely. Being alone does not mean I’m lonely. In fact, introverts have their fair share of chaos inside their mind. There is a whole world there. That would never stop producing ideas or thoughts, you probably wouldn’t be able to last 5 minutes in there.
So the next time you see me sitting at the table and observing the dance floor with the swaying bodies at an event, it does not mean I’m depressed, just means that I love observing than engaging. But just because you find me engaging some other times doesn’t also mean that I’m not being me. It comes down to preferences, and what we find meaningful and joyful.
Honestly, I’m tired of people telling me “why are you always cooped up in your room?”, “are you okay?”, “you should go out, mingle”, “aren’t you bored?”
No. I’m not bored. And no, I don’t go out all the time, but when I do, I have a wonderful time and make meaningful memories, learn insightful things, and explore and observe the world. I’m more than okay. And I’m usually in my room because the world in my head is vast, ideas varied, and time so limited for me to explore them all. I spent my time doing things that are meaningful to me. Reading, and writing, and painting, and wondering, and exploring. Most often it feels like other people are tired of me being in my space when I’m just really enjoying my wonderful solitude.
So here’s to the quiet ones, cheers in silence!