Being an introvert is not a weakness to be overcome; it is a strength to be nurtured.
It’s true that, for the last several decades at least, American culture has placed a high premium on being an extrovert, on having the ability to be outgoing and gregarious, to talk as much as (and sometimes before) you think, to fill a room. For example, we tend to hire extroverts more often, pay them more, and promote them faster. They are more often admired and held up as examples.
And if anything, the bias toward extroversion has become even greater in the church than in the culture at large.
Unfortunately, this can leave introverts feeling as if being admired or successful or even just being a faithful Christian requires becoming a different person—one who is energized by being with others rather than by being alone. This is what our dominant culture teaches us.
But maybe you’ve noticed that our dominant culture isn’t always a reliable guide for what’s best for us, our community, or our churches. And perhaps our elevation of extroverts at the expense of introverts is doing more harm than good.
God created the human race with an incredible amount of diversity, and any time we try to make everyone the same or minimize and marginalize those who are different, we do so to our detriment. We miss out on the unique gifts the marginalized have to offer.
One of the ways we may differ from one another is where we happen to fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Extrovertism is one kind of strength, but when we value it so highly that we try to transform introverts into extroverts or treat introverts as inferior for being less gregarious, then we’re denying the wisdom of God in giving (by some research estimates) more than half the human race introspective personalities.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family full of introverts, where being “quiet” never made me feel out of place, where carrying a stack of books on family vacation was endearing, not cause for alarm. My grades were good enough that teachers and others would talk about how bright my future was. And growing up, I was always fortunate to have a couple of good friends (often female, though there were exceptions) who seemed to understand me and value me and never expected me to have a personality other than the one God gave me.
But I have also felt the external pressure—sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle—to be less of what I am (an introvert) and more of what the culture values (an extrovert). I have been urged to speak up more often, to let my voice be heard more forcefully, to be more energetic. And I have sometimes felt the subtle disappointment of others who feel that my introverted personality is somehow keeping me from reaching my full potential.
Internally, I have often wondered whether I would ever amount to much since I don’t have that forceful, look-at-me personality.
To be clear, I’m not complaining; I’ve generally been treated well. I’ve been given opportunities that I never could have imagined, primarily because I’ve worked with some pretty extraordinary people. I’ve had key people who believed in me. But I’m speaking out on behalf of friends, family, and others I don’t even know who are just now learning to make their way as introverts in a culture where introversion is often seen as a problem to be fixed.
I’m very encouraged that there is a quiet (surprise!) but growing movement today to recognize the value of introverts, to affirm that we can make significant contributions without trying to become something we are not, and to say that introverts have much to offer that is unique and valuable. There is growing recognition that introverts can actually be quite good at leading others—in some circumstances, even more effectively than extroverts.
Helpful books have been written recently, and I don’t want to fail to mention them. They include Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh. I strongly recommend the first, and even though I’m still working on the second, I’ve read enough to know that I can recommend it too.
So, I’ll be exploring this topic of introverts in an extroverted world here, along with the other things I tend to write about. Maybe I have something new to contribute to the conversation. Or maybe I can just bring the conversation to a new audience. Perhaps more than anything, my goal is for my friends and family, including my children, to know that being an introvert doesn’t make you somehow less than others. And I want all of us to live in a culture that can recognize what introverts uniquely have to offer.