I’m an introvert, and I don’t need to come out of my shell

I am eagerly waiting.

I’m waiting for the day when we’ll take all of this magnificent, heartwarming talk of “diversity,” and actually apply it in some sort of meaningful way. On one hand, we appear to be utterly obsessed with diversity. We speak so glowingly about it. We have policies and quotas and regulations to enforce it. We even have “Diversity Experts” who are paid a lot of money by businesses and government agencies to offer helpful diversity tips: “Hire more minorities and gay people. The end. That’ll be 25,000 dollars. Thanks, bye.” We are truly committed to diversity, whatever the cost.

But then, on the other hand, we are also rigid, intolerant, un-accepting and unaccommodating to a degree unmatched in any culture this side of Sharia Law. Sure, we’ll join in a big cuddly group hug with folks of any proclivity and pigmentation, but that hug will turn into a rugby scrum the second anyone expresses an idea, or demonstrates a personality trait, that we deem to be abnormal. That’s “diversity” in modern America. We need everyone to think and behave in a certain predetermined manner. If — and only if — they fulfill that obligation, we’re willing to accept their ethnic heritage and sexual appetites. Maybe we’re not so committed to diversity, after all. In fact, maybe we detest diversity. Maybe we loathe the very idea that people are even allowed to behave and think in a manner we deem abnormal.

A couple of days ago on my show I took another opportunity to extol the virtues of homeschooling. A public school, despite all of its lip service to diversity, is a place of ruthless conformity. Everyone must learn a certain way, think a certain way, and behave a certain way. These structures are enforced by any means necessary, which often means psychotropic drugs. Chemical conformity is not only a great name for a rock band, but the motto for our current education system. So, for that reason among many others, this public schooled guy is a big proponent of homeschooling.

Our discussion led to the usual emails from Statists who are quite concerned about the chaos that will surely ensue if too many parents decide to rebelliously teach their children information that isn’t sanctioned by the government. I’d like to address one particular objection to homeschooling, as it also belies a societal prejudice that extends beyond the homeschool/public school debate. This is part of an email from a listener named Scott:

“…The biggest problem with homeschooling is its failure to effectively socialize children. Public school teaches kids to be outgoing and extroverted. I’ve found that many homeschooled kids seem to be quiet and uncomfortable in social situations. The classroom environment could help these kids come out of their shell…”

Alright. Now, this is wrong on every count. In fact, kids who are homeschooled tend to be much better in “social situations” because they learned how to socialize from adults, rather than aping the personality traits of their peers. Public school doesn’t make kids “sociable,” and I think you could more accurately argue for the opposite. The whole concept that we need to send our children to government facilities to be “socialized” makes me shudder. Our children aren’t animals, and I wish we’d stop speaking about them as if they were. That said, I’m not looking to argue that point at the moment. Instead, I’d like to examine the idea that being “outgoing and extroverted” is some sort of universal ideal.

It isn’t. If a kid is introverted he doesn’t need to be broken like a dog. He doesn’t need to change his personality. He doesn’t even need to “come out of his shell.” He’s not hiding in a shell. He just doesn’t feel the need to chatter incessantly with everyone in the room. If that makes you uncomfortable — that’s your problem. There’s nothing objectively preferable or superior about extraversion.

Maybe we should define our terms. People throw these labels around without understanding what they mean (what else is new?). Being an introvert has nothing to do with being anxious in “social situations”. Any personality type can suffer from social phobias. Put simply, an introvert is energized by being alone or in small groups, where he or she can think, create and contemplate. An extrovert finds fulfillment primarily in large groups, and generally hates being alone. It’s more complicated than this, obviously, but I’m just hitting the basics. The crucial point is that introversion has nothing to do with fear, and extraversion has nothing to do with boldness or courage.

I’m an introvert. But I host a talk show. But I’m not talkative. But I like public speaking. But I don’t like meeting strangers. These only seem like contradictions to those who don’t understand basic human psychology. Most people who work behind a mic or in front of a camera are naturally introverted. Why? Because it’s a creative field, and you can’t be creative if you can’t shut up long enough to think of something meaningful to say. I like to discuss subjects, and I will immediately check out of a conversation if it becomes clear that the other person is deftly maneuvering the dialogue so as to avoid saying anything coherent.

I love ideas, I like people who love ideas, and for this reason I hate small talk. I hate it with a blinding passion. Small talk exists simply to cannibalize silence, and I cherish silence because it’s the best environment for thinking. Nowadays, we seem to be under the simplistic impression that the “friendliest” people are the ones who say the most. If that’s the case, I guess the best musician is the one who plays the loudest, and the greatest painter is the one who uses the most paint.

Without intending any offense to the small talkers of the world, allow me to suggest that there’s nothing terribly friendly about ripping me out of my imagination simply because you can’t deal with a few moments of peace and quiet. Today I was standing outside the local coffee shop, getting my third of twelve caffeine fixes for the day, and enjoying the nice weather. I noticed an ant crawling across the pavement. It was a pretty big ant, as a far as ants go. I started to meditate on this ant, and as I stared at it, I stumbled upon an interesting ant-related thought. I don’t remember the thought, because I was suddenly interrupted by a guy standing next to me.

Guy: “It’s supposed to hit 70 on Saturday, I think.”

Me: “…What? The ant?”

Guy: “Huh? No, the temperature. It’s supposed to be 70 degrees on Saturday.”

Me: “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, 70 degrees on Saturday. Cool, yeah. I agree. I mean, yeah, that’ll be nice.”

Guy: “…Right. OK, well, take it easy.”

Me: “You too.”

That about encapsulates 75 percent of the interactions I have on a daily basis. I’m stuck deep inside my own head, somebody comes along and yanks me out of it in order to make meaningless small talk, I somehow fumble the exchange, and we both walk away feeling awkward and regretful. Nowadays, I’m the bad guy because I’m not always looking to socialize, and when I do socialize, I prefer to talk ABOUT something. People in my camp might be guilty of finding a way to bumble a basic exchange of pleasantries, but that’s largely because our attempts to have an engaging conversation with another person usually fail, and not by our own doing.

Here’s what happens when we interrupt someone’s stream of pointless chit chat in an attempt to initiate a substantive discussion:

Us: “Hey, I’ve thought quite a bit about one of the 40 subjects you just touched on in the last 30 seconds as you were babbling at me. In fact, I think you’ll find this to be a worthwhile insight, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well…”

Small talker: “Oh, that’s nice, but unfortunately I’ve already lost interest and now I am going to transition into a 14 minute gossipy monologue about some bull crap you couldn’t possibly find relevant or interesting.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically how it goes. This also demonstrates how, despite popular opinion, extroverts can be extraordinarily anti-social. Yet introverts are considered the creepy, future mass killers of society, while extroversion is hoisted up as the ideal. Some of this stems from a simple obsession with noise. Last week I went to a nearby bar to get a beer with my producer. It was about 6 in the evening, we stopped off at a place with a great selection of brews from all over the country. Nobody in the joint was under the age of 25, most looked to be well over 30. I can say with certainty that not a single one of the mostly white, adult, blue collar dudes in that establishment came there to get their twerk on. But that didn’t stop the bar management from blasting rap music in our faces at 1000 decibels. This, in and of itself, has become an epidemic. A few months ago I tried to order a roast beef sandwich at a deli, but my efforts were hindered by the pulsating techno-pop music pumping through the speakers. Again, this was at a sandwich shop, around lunch time on a Tuesday. Not exactly the sort of time and place where you expect, or need, or desire a 1980’s nightclub ambience.

Maybe it’s a stretch to try and connect techno and roast beef with our society’s obsession with being extroverted, but I think it all grows from the same root: We’ve decided that small talk is better than real talk, noise is better than silence, and we’d all rather be — or we’d rather our kids be– Tony Robbins than, say, Leonardo Da Vinci (a notable introvert). We live in a country where it’s perfectly acceptable to find the silent person in the back of the room and say, in as loud and shrill a voice as possible, “WHY ARE YOU SO QUIET?!” Yet I’ll be frowned upon if I walk up to some gossiping blabbermouth at the food court and innocently inquire as to if, and when, they plan on shutting their mouth for 15 seconds.

We put “team work” and “group collaboration” over individual achievement. In schools, the teacher may even break students into groups to complete math and writing assignments. I don’t think anything has ever been accomplished by committee in either field, but, hey, we gotta “socialize” the little creatures, right?

Introverts might not enjoy parties, but that isn’t because they’re afraid of them. It’s because they’re bored by them. They’d rather take their beer into another room and read something, or write something, or think about something. They aren’t hiding from human interaction, they’re doing the thing that energizes them and brings them fulfillment.

Indeed, many of the greatest inventors, engineers, creators, thinkers, writers, artists and revolutionaries have possessed the apparently defective trait of introversion. Einstein, Newton, Yeats, Proust, Shakespeare, Orwell, Edison, Plato, Bill Gates — all introverts. And all incredibly successful BECAUSE of this trait, not in spite of it. Today I’m sure we’d tell Newton to “come out of his shell”. We’d be offended by Plato because he doesn’t stop to talk about the weather every time we pass him in the hall. I’m sure Edison’s teachers would recommend a daily dose of psychotropic medication to cure him of his “anti-social disorder”.

I’m not saying all introverts are towering geniuses — I’m living proof that it doesn’t always work that way — but, still, your 5th grade introvert might have beautiful intellectual gifts that don’t include being naturally outgoing. Who cares? He won’t make a great salesman, so what? His personality is an asset in so many ways, even if the world says otherwise. The world doesn’t know what it’s talking about. The world doesn’t know that it’s been shaped and transformed by those weird, shy introverts. So, no, there isn’t anything defective about those quiet kids in class. But there might be something brilliant about them. They might be able to think and create incredible things in their quiet mind, inside that “shell,” up in that mysterious head of theirs.

The next time you think there’s something wrong with being introverted, pick up a biography of Ghandi, or JK Rowling, or Warren Buffett, or Thomas Aquinas, or Abraham Lincoln, and then reconsider your assessment. We might not light up the room, but we can change the world.

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381 Responses to I’m an introvert, and I don’t need to come out of my shell

  1. Lisa says:

    I recommend you read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and gain insight into how society really treats true diversity of thought, action, appearance, personality etc. When you do, you can truly see this societal bias against the quiet, the intelligent and those who ultimately value their individuality, and utilize their God given abilities to their fullest potential.

  2. Mai says:

    Its brilliant. Just a week ago I was having a similar thought. What’s with all the diversity crap if most of the “open-minded” people I know cannot get it through their brains that I love being home alone most Friday and Saturday nights of the year. Ever since I’ve been a teenager I’ve been labelled this and that for wanting to spend some time on my own. I think I am truly open-minded – I am okay with my friends wanting to have more social activity than I do. I am also okay if somebody need their alone time once in a while. I wish I could take a really powerful microphone and say it out loud so that the whole western world hears me. Sry, if my English is so so. I am not native. Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. Sherry says:

    Well done! I certainly couldn’t agree more when it comes to sending our kids to schools for socialization? What are they, dogs? Is it supposed to be like socializing a puppy? That’s the craziest thing I’ve heard and I’m tired of hearing it. Yeah, they learn how to follow the crowd, and if they don’t then they’re picked on and bullied because of being “different.” As a parent, I really don’t like sending my kids there, since I know what it’s like. Really thinking of home schooling if I possibly can.
    I’m an introvert and when I was young and had to go to school, I was constantly picked on. I loved to learn, but I hated school! I truly dreaded the times when the teacher stuck us in groups for projects. It didn’t “socialize” me at all. I think it only made me withdraw further.
    Now, as an adult, I’m still not all that talkative. But if I have something to say, I certainly will. In fact, I enjoy talking when I have a mind to. I can talk with someone for hours if it’s about something we both enjoy.
    I love it when people say “oh, why are you so quiet?” Well, maybe I just don’t have anything to say at the moment or I’m just thinking about things other than the weather or what so and so did. I do enjoy getting out and socializing with people at times, but I can only take so much. I need my time alone to recharge and unwind.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  5. Allyson Neilson says:

    I’m stuck on the fact that you had twelve caffeine fixes in one day! Sorry 🙂 but very well written. As an extrovert, I appreciate your insight and will be more thoughtful about what I say and who I say it to. You’re a smart dude, Matt Walsh!

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  7. JD says:

    Can totally relate, thanks… You might find this funny: http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/problems-only-introverts-will-understand;

    and this, infuriating:

    Based on that second article, we introverts all have ODD. 😀

  8. lucretiaaos says:

    I was recently pulled in to my boss’ office and given a verbal warning because one of the RNs I work with said I didn’t say hello to her when she came to work. I was thinking – I didn’t hear her. I was informed that it was my duty to be more attentive to my co-workers’ sensitivities and needs for attention…
    That having been said: This was amazing. I think it might be my favorite blog entry so far.

  9. Cheryl says:

    Thank you so much for this! It has taken me years to understand and appreciate the fact that I am an introvert. I have tried to be more “outgoing” and to enjoy social situations the way my extrovert friends do. But now I realize that this is me. I can converse with strangers when needed, volunteer at church etc. However, I still prefer to read and quiet is refreshing to me.

    We also homeschool our kids. The “socialization” argument is the worst. My kids were in public school for a while. Just when do they socialize? During class when the teacher is talking? During their 20 minute lunch when they must be silent because they only have so much time to eat? During recess – oh wait, no, they don’t get recess anymore.

    My kids help at church, babysit, work at summer camps, take music lessons and dance lessons, interact with all ages of people each day. In my opinion they are better socialized than their publci school peers.

    Anyway, from an introvert, thanks again!

  10. Julia says:

    Let me just say, as a former public schooler and homeschooler and successful college graduate (magna cum laude from a private college, by the way, for those who are worried about the academic strength of homeschoolers), that I would love to meet Scott and tell him just how absolutely wrong he is about public schools. I was completely suppressed in public school and was forced to fit into a little mold. I wasn’t allowed to fulfill my creative drives (because that meant I wasn’t interacting with other students) and was forced to do things with people that actively were hostile towards me (yes, bullies) because I wasn’t “social” enough with them and needed to “grow up and learn how to live with them.”

    After I had had enough of this, my parents agreed to pull me out and homeschool me. The difference was almost immediate. I was free to complete my work as quickly as I could and then could use the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. And that didn’t mean that I spent it by myself all the time, although that certainly happened when I didn’t feel like spending my energy on other people. I had several good friends in my neighborhood with whom I would regularly spend time, but that didn’t mean that I felt it necessary to spend all of my precious free time with them. There were other things I wanted to do as well, and homeschooling gave me the ability to do them.

    Also, for those who are concerned that I was completing my schoolwork early in the day because it “wasn’t difficult enough,” please see the part above where I graduated from a private college magna cum laude. I think my academics were rigorous enough, and my parents weren’t afraid to push me either if they felt I wasn’t doing my best. This resulted in me being able to push myself to do my best, because I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less.

    Fast forward to my freshman year of college, in which I started out at a state school due to financial reasons. I received several scholarships due to my 4.0 GPA that I brought in from homeschooling through my high school years, and was therefore obligated to attend a scholarship thank-you luncheon with my parents. I didn’t mind this at all, as I was rather pleased to be able to thank the donors who made my higher education possible. However, an interesting conversation ensued with one of the college administrators. I had mentioned in my thank-you to my donors that I also thanked my parents because I had been homeschooled and couldn’t have done it without their help. After the main portion of the luncheon was over and people were starting to leave, I was approached by this gentleman because he had questions about homeschooling. Apparently he was considering homeschooling his children when they were old enough, but he had concerns about the social aspect of homeschooling, as many people do. I was more than happy to give myself as an example of a homeschooler who was perfectly capable of handling social interactions, to which he replied, “Well, yes. That was what struck me about you. You seem so well-socialized.” I smiled politely at what he probably thought was a compliment (and I have no doubt he meant it as one and don’t blame him for it a bit), but inside, I was thinking, “Yes, because I’m an animal that needed to be taught how to properly interact with my fellow creatures. Thank you for this vote of confidence in my capabilities to learn how to do this on my own without the help of adults.”

    Now to be fair, there are plenty of homeschoolers out there that fit the typical stereotype of being awkward and unable to cope in social situations. However, have people ever considered that there are also public schoolers out there like this? I have known at least two public schoolers whom I thought had been homeschooled at first because of how utterly socially awkward they were. It seems, unfortunately, that even I’m prey to the common misconception that homeschoolers are always the awkward ones and public schoolers are always the socially adept ones. But the fact that some people who are public schooled fit the homeschool stereotype made me think about something important. What if people meet these awkward public schoolers and, like I did, make the automatic assumption that they must be homeschoolers and that homeschooling, as a (somewhat) logical conclusion, must be bad for the social capabilities of the kids who are homeschooled? I think this may be more common than people think, and homeschoolers are taking the damage for it.

    Anyway, back to my original point. I’d love to meet Scott, because maybe then he’d realize just how wrong he is to assume that the public schools can — or are — doing it better.

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