Monday, March 06, 2006

Hi, My Name Is Belle, and I'm an Introvert

Introverts v. Extroverts

From "Caring For Your Introvert":

I am an introvert.Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes.

Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring. Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality.

Extroverts therefore dominate public life. This is a pity. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place.

The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps anIntroverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."

From "Introverts of the World, Unite!": (an interview with the author of the above)

You asked about shyness versus introversion. My limited reading on the subject suggests that, psychologically speaking, they're regarded as different things. That reflects my own experience; I'm not particularly shy myself. To me, shyness implies a real reluctance to be socially aggressive or assertive. It's very difficult for shy people to put themselves out there if they need to. For introverts, it's never easy to do, but it's more a matter of reluctance to expend the energy, because it tires us out. That's what I feel most strongly. If I have to go to a party and then a dinner afterwards, I'm completely ruined for the evening. But if I'm called upon to run a business meeting or something, I don't feel any reluctance or anxiety about it. So, in my mind there's always been a fairly clear distinction between introversion and shyness.

I marvel at Michael who can always somehow turn the conversation right over effortlessly and keep it going even when what he says is not necessarily profound or interesting. What he comes up with is perfectly tuned to the sense and flow of the conversation. But it's not words that are particularly intended to convey ideas or mean things. It's words that socialize—that simply continue the conversation. It's chit-chat. I have no gift for that. I have to think about what to say next, and sometimes I can't think fast enough and end up saying something stupid. Or sometimes I just come up dry and the conversation kind of ends for while until I can think of another topic. This is why it's work for me. It takes positive cognition on my part. I think that's probably a core introvert characteristic that you and I have in common and which can probably be distinguished from shyness per se—that small talk takes conscious effort and is very hard work. There's nothing small about small talk if you're an introvert. But we're good at big talk.

If I get onto a topic I'm interested in and feel strongly about then it's true that I can get animated and engaged. But I'm not so good at chatting about things like the weather.The weather's not interesting. But once an introvert gets on a subject that they know about or care about or that intrigues them intellectually, the opposite often takes hold. They get passionately engaged and turned on by the conversation. But it's not socializing that's going on there. It's learning or teaching or analyzing, which involves, I'm convinced, a whole different part of the brain from the socializing part.

Hi. My name is Belle. And I'm an Introvert.

(People who know Belle's cheerful, friendly, warm-hearted, "perky" alter-ego spit out their TAB-Energy cola, gurgling "Yeah, right!")

No really, I am. I just fake friendliness, small talk, and interpersonal skills really, really well. It's hard work for me. But I do it because it's a good thing to do, allows one to start the superficial conversations from which deep friendships can be formed, and you know, manage in society and get jobs and stuff.

When I was young, I was so shy I could hardly raise my hand, and I sat in the back of the classroom. I was incredibly nervous talking in front of people, and when I got nervous, I would talk really fast and stutter a little. Back then, talking in public terrified me, and I was incredibly awkward at making friends. I always had a few very close friends, but I was never good at being a part of a group--and I definitely didn't run with the popular kids (whoa, life repeats itself in the junior high milieu of law school). But I was definitely a different Belle than I am today.

I forced myself to change. I became more outgoing and friendly. I am considered the social glue in my college Humanities honors group. I have plenty of friends who would accept a phone call from me! (collected on a one-on-one, ad hoc basis, but still) And I speak in public now, all the time. When I was a kid, I was afraid of talking in public--so I joined Model United Nations, that geeky "let's pretend to be diplomats and argue for nuclear non-proliferation to achieve world peace" debate club. I never got over my nervousness, but I learned to manage it. And joining academic programs or groups is my way of learning to socialize in groups--I still hate it, but I do it if it's a worthy endeavor or cause. I manage my problems, but I never fully conquer them. To this day, I talk really fast, but that's more out of over-excitement and enthusiasm. I don't slur my speech or stutter anymore (well, I sometimes elide double consonants), and I really, consciously slow down when I give a public speech or lecture. The biggest change is that I am astonishingly attention-whorish and show-offy. I sit in the first row of the classroom. I raise my hand a lot, not only to give answers, but also to ask pointed questions and start a debate. I go to office hours. I go to lectures and faculty roundtables (they invite students, I am one of the few who actually shows up) just to meet scholars and rub elbows with the guy who wrote the paper on Raz's moral legal theory. I am emailing professors across the nation who might one day interview me at an AALS conference 4 years from now just to get my name on the radar as that "aspiring academic" who sends them interesting articles about workplace discrimination or posts a particularly astute comment about racial gerrymandering in response to their blogpost. This is big, people! I am networking.

I generally hate networking too. I went to, and hated "law firm receptions" where you go to a swanky hotel, meet and greet lawyers and hiring partners, ask them about the firm's practice areas and work culture, and then head for the open bar and get drunk (okay, the last part I liked). I hate, hate talking to people I don't like about things I don't care about. Maybe that's why I'm so good in the classroom, leading a meeting, giving a lecture, or in an one-on-one conversation with someone I like about something I like to talk about. I'm especially good on the net at blogging at length about whatever interests me, making net friends, and emailing an admired academic.

How do I know I'm an introvert? Well, I took the Myers-Briggs test when I was 13, which labeled me as an ISTJ--and best suited for a solitary, non-networking profession such as being a mortician (I kid you not, this career-matching has traumatized me for life). What does ISTJ stand for?

The terms Introvert and Extrovert are referred to as attitudes and show how a person orients and receives their energy. In the extroverted attitude the energy flow is outward, and the preferred focus is on other people and things, whereas in the introverted attitude the energy flow is inward, and the preferred focus is on one's own thoughts and ideas.

Sensing and iNtuition are the perceiving functions. They indicate how a person prefers to receive data. These are the nonrational functions, as a person does not necessarily have control over receiving data, but only how to process it once they have it. Sensing prefers to receive data primarily from the five senses, and intuition prefers to receive data from the unconscious, or seeing relationships via insights.

Thinking and Feeling are the judging functions. They both strive to make rational judgments and decisions using the data received from their perceiving functions, above. Thinking uses logical "true or false, if-then" logical connections. Feeling uses "more or less, better-worse" evaluations. When Thinking or Feeling is extroverted, judgments tend to rely on external sources and the generally accepted rules and procedures. When introverted, Thinking and Feeling judgments tend to be subjective, relying on internally generated ideas for logical organization and evaluation.

Judging and Perceiving reveals the specific attitudes of the functions. In J-types, the judging function (T or F) is dominant, and will be directed inward or outward in accordance with the I/E preference. J-types tend to prefer a step-by-step (left brain: parts to whole) approach to life, relying on external rules and procedures, and preferring quick closure. The perceiving function (S or N) is the direct opposite to the judging function. Judging (J) style approaches the outside world WITH A PLAN and is oriented towards organizing one's surroundings, being prepared, making decisions and reaching closure and completion. A Perceiving (P) style takes the outside world AS IT COMES and is adopting and adapting, flexible, open-ended and receptive to new opportunities and changing game plans.

So, I took the test again tonight, and pretty much am the same. I may be more open now, such that it's not as either/or between "thinking" and "feeling," and I had a close call when it came to "judging" vs. "perceiving," but after 12 freaking years, it's still the same ol' Belle at heart. I am outwardly extremely friendly and chatty to everyone I meet--but it exhausts me. I need to decompress after each happy hour and karaoke night, and they have to be few and far between. I hate happy hours. I hate group-excursions. (why, oh why is it the tendency in law shcool to turn a 3 person lunch into an open invite to half the school until you can't get a table for 20 and have to wait an hour to eat?) I hate being forced to hang out with people I hardly know. I generally dislike parties unless I know everyone there. I will never, ever stay at a bed-and-breakfast. I definitely need my alone time. And I hate, hate small talk, which is why I'll try to steer conversations away from whether Tom and Katie really broke up to something I actually give a damn about, like books, music, movies--anything except "where did you get your shoes?"

I can fake small talk really well though. It's my patience with people with whom I can only converse emptily about nothing that I fail miserably at faking. Witness three conversations in three years with a girl I'll call "Prissy Law School Princess" (she talks about staying at the St. Regis in China, camping in Zimbabwe, her parents' wine cellar in Boston, dining at the Four Seasons, buying black-label Ralph Lauren', using Trish McEvoy, blah blah blah):

First year, when Prissy Princess had no reason to dislike Belle:

Prissy Princess: I like your coat, Belle.

Belle: Thanks, I got it at Banana Republic on sale. It's still kind of pricey though--it was $100.

Prissy Princess: Oh, that's a good deal! Maybe I'll pick one up. (eyeing Belle's petite, but curvy frame) Think they'll have it in extra small?

Belle: Um, I think so. I got the last small, but I think there may have been an extra-small left. (thinking to self: that I was apparently too damn fat to fit into, so you can have it)

Second year, after Belle has kind of pissed off Prissy Princess by backing out of a carpool arrangement to downtown during a summer externship at same federal courthouse, choosing instead to take the god-forsaken (by Prissy Princess standards) public transport system to avoid sharing a ride with Prissy Princess for 2 hours a day for 10 weeks. Belle and Prissy Princess meet at annual Law School charity auction to fund public interest legal work:

Prissy Princess: (after not having talked to Belle all year) I like your purse, Belle (pointing at chic red-and-white Kate Spade mini-tote)

Belle: Thanks. It's fake.

Prissy Princess: Oh. (look of "ewwww" comes across Prissy Princess' face as she realizes she complimented a girl she doesn't really like anymore and admired something that was totally fake).

Third year, despite having done nothing further to provoke Prissy Princess' dislike other than to exist and continue to degrade the elite atmosphere surrounding law school, Prissy Princess and Belle run into each other on a campus sidewalk:

Belle: (in a good mood) Hi, Prissy Princess!

Prissy Princess: (purses lips, cocks head to side, nods slightly at Belle, then walks on, saying nothing)

Needless to say, I have no love for this girl, although we have mutual friends and so it's awkward to dislike her so much. This is a girl who calls you out for "blending" if you accidently leave a little pinot grigio in your glass as you pour yourself some cabernet at a wine and cheese party, says "Belle, you can't start yet, don't be ghetto" in front of everyone when I moved my napkin a hair of an inch just to get it from getting soaked by aioli at a friend's birthday dinner, almost prompting me to call her by her secret nickname in public (as in "Fuck you, Prissy Princess!").

So, I hate schmoozing, have grown to hate wine-and-cheese parties and receptions of all kinds, and I can't stand talking to people about things I don't care about, especially if they're people I don't like. But like my speech impediment, I have learned to manage this problem. I fake small talk well enough. I just can't mask contempt.

That said, if you meet my alter-ego, dont' presume that I hate people, hate you, and hate talking to you. I love people! It's groups of them I hate. On an individual basis, or within a sufficiently close, tight, and commonly bonded network, I love people. Just don't make me talk about clothes, celebrity gossip, or conspicuous consumerism and how to deploy it for too long. I don't mind having an "in" to conversation and bonding. I can pretty much talk to damn near everyone, I am that good at faking small talk and enthusiasm. I just probably wont' talk to you for very long if this is all we can talk about.

Would that every conversation were of something you were passionately interested about, and every word spoken had meaning and value. Would that conversations be intellectual exchanges, or at the very least, really funny and full of in-jokes, signifying at least a bond that transcends illuminating conversation. I can have conversations about my various verbal tics with one of my friends until crying with laughter (my tendency to over-aspirate my "H's" like I'm some German emigre, my over-emphasis of certain parts of the word "FAS-cin-ATE-ing," my inability to modulate the volume of my voice when I get REALLY EXCITED about something). Would that all the people we talk to be people we want to talk to, so that we can talk about anything and it would still be lovely.

And I won't stop making idle talk to new people I meet--it's good to be friendly, nice, open and generous--and that's how you make friends. You start off talking about the latest Franz Ferdinand album and the state of "indie music" and then you get to talking about politics, how you grew up, what you think about Big Important Things, and hey, presto! you've made a friend. So since this is a necessary--well, not "evil," but let's call it a "difficult task" for an introvert--I guess I'll still keep at developing the small talk skills.

So, do you know the latest on Tom and Katie?