There’s an interesting post on the Matt Walsh blog. I’m not directly responding to it here, so you don’t have to read it to understand my post below (although Matt Walsh’s blog is always a good read).

The article got me thinking about the idea of introverts vs. extroverts. On the surface, I’m sure I’d be labeled an introvert. I do tend to be more quiet than others. But it of course depends on the situation, the topic of conversation, etc. Really I don’t think of myself as an introvert, nor do I accept the notion that there is such a thing in the first place. I think it’s too simplistic, and I’m not sure it helps anyone to think of themselves as one way or another.

When it comes to being social, I think there are two main areas where people differ (not counting factors like social anxiety or pressure of speech):

1. What they like to talk about.

Some people enjoy talking about more trivial things, like the weather, or traffic. Barrier to entry is very low, so it’s easy to bring up with strangers, or if you just don’t have time to say much in general. After all, sometimes it’s not the topic that’s important, it’s just the human connection that comes through it. Talking isn’t always about an exchange of huge profound ideas, it’s simply a psychological way for people to find some comfort in sharing this world with others. We like being social, and we like being liked.

A lot of people like talking about themselves, and sometimes their conversations are little more than a sharing of personal experiences as it relates to some topic. For example, “I had to stand in line forever at the grocery store.” “Really? I go to grocery store X and there’s never a line.” “Oh, I go to grocery store Y. It’s usually not that bad.” “I could never go there.” I do this too sometimes. When somebody tells me something that I really have no response for, I can either probe for more information (if I’m genuinely interested in the topic, this will happen naturally, otherwise it’s done just to be polite), or I might as well relate it to myself somehow. It’s better than, “I had to stand in line forever at the grocery store.” “So what? Who cares?”

I don’t think the desire to talk about oneself necessarily comes from a selfish all-about-me place. People just crave human connection and that’s the first sort of thing that pops into their heads. (And some people go over the past a lot more in their heads than others.)

I think the “you’re so quiet” and “we have to break you out of your shell!” sort of comments (which I too have received my share of) come from a natural desire for others to mentally place you somewhere, to know what you’re “about”, to figure out how to relate to you. Their intentions are not necessarily impure; they’re not trying to mock you, they’re not intimidated by you, and they don’t want you to say boring things just because you think they do. They’re just not sure how to relate to you.

If someone tells you you’re quiet, try actually sharing with them what you’re actually thinking about (assuming it’s not rude, and if it is rude, stop thinking rude things!).

Then you can have a conversation like this:

“You’re so quiet!”

“Am I? Well, I was just thinking about how one could create a video game that takes place in a tesseract palace.”

“Oh. Well, goodbye.”

Or:

“You’re so quiet!”

“Yeah, I’ve been busy thinking about how to edit the exposition of an ancient prophecy in my fantasy novel in a way that will seem mysterious, yet won’t come across as overly evasive. Any ideas?”

“Say what?!”

Or:

“You’re so quiet!”

“DRAGONS AND WIZARDS!”

“Ugh.”

Invite them into your weirdness. Eventually you’ll find someone else who also likes thinking about those things and you will have epic conversations.

If someone else’s derision about something you love bothers you, then you don’t love it enough.

2. Whether or not they enjoy a civil arguments.

(I preface arguing with the word “civil” because here I am talking about civil discussions, not shouting matches or fist-fights or arguments with climaxes that would wind up on the evening news.)

Some people put up their social defenses the moment a disagreement comes up. They may be simply disinterested in a viewpoint they can’t relate to, or it costs them emotional energy to argue their point, so it’s not always worth it for them.

Others enjoy arguing, not for the sake of itself, but they enjoy trying to figure out why people see the world differently, and they try to hone in on where exactly the disagreement springs from. A disagreement can be like a puzzle to be solved. Why did someone else come to this different conclusion? Sometimes it just comes down to personal taste, like differing opinions about a movie or piece of music. Sometimes it comes down to a decision of faith (will it snow tomorrow or not?). Sometimes it comes down to a logical error someone is making. Sometimes it comes down to differing experiences. Etc.

Arguing can be a wonderful way to learn; even if you’re ultimate conclusion doesn’t waver, you can come to better understand its foundation. Other times, you will actually change your mind about something. But you’ll find that the more you’re willing to change your mind about something, the less you’ll have to. You don’t tend to flip-flop back and forth; you grow roots. And you’re more careful not to draw conclusions about things you know you have no foundation for.

Imagine if you could see into the head of a child who’s just learning about how the world works. Would you think him stupid just because he had a lot of miscomprehensions? I don’t think so, because you’d see where all those miscomprehensions were coming from; you’d see why he thought what he thought.

In other words, you’re ideas and beliefs are never wrong in and of themselves. It’s only that they can be incomplete. What’s wrong is the decision to refuse to accept some new idea because you’re afraid of feeling inferior for having had to learn it and correct your miscomprehension.

A disagreement can also be construed as an insult, as if someone else is just disagreeing with you to cause you strife. Sometimes I’m talking with someone and I’ll say, “I disagree with that, because…” and the other person gets deeply offended as if I’m just pulling the disagreement out of thin air as an insult. If you think someone else’s motivations are impure, you’ll find evidence for it in whatever they say.

Categories: Psychology

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