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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, March 12, 2007

innies and outies

Most Sundays Kimmie and I watch the CBC current-affairs show Sunday Night with Evan Solomon and Carole MacNeil. Last night they had a segment on introverts and extroverts. Apparently 75% of people are extroverts, 25% introverts. Two (introverted) American professors talked about the problems of being an introvert in an extroverted world.

I watched with interest, because I've quietly (in my introverted way) followed the issue since I first seriously encountered when reading Jung, who, I believe, invented the terms, or at least developed the concepts into an important part of his psychological theory. It wasn't my favorite part of his system, since it seemed simplistic to me. Was it useful to categorize people into one of two great bins, according to whether they are habitually outgoing or more inward?

They had a pop-questionnaire on the show so you could tell which bin you fit into. Here are the traits. You are an extrovert if:

  • You like to be in the thick of things.
  • You enjoy chitchat, even with strangers.
  • You feel stoked after activity.
  • You know lots of people and consider them friends.
  • You’re generally quite peppy.
  • You tend to speak or act without needing to think first.
  • And you tend to talk more than listen.
You are an introvert if:

  • You enjoy time alone or with a few close friends.
  • You experience a blank mind in groups or under pressure.
  • You feel drained after activities, even the ones you like.
  • You consider only deep relationships as friendships.
  • You appear calm, self-contained, and like to observe.
  • You think before you act or speak.
  • And you tend to listen, but talk a lot about topics of importance to you.
Hands down, no question, I'm an introvert--point for point. (Kimmie felt she was a blend of the two.)

One thing that surprised me in the show was that introverts felt a need to justify themselves, that they feel beleaguered or undervalued in an extroverted world. I suppose I feel that way to some extent; certainly any introvert has felt envy for those who can mingle and schmooze easily. But when they put up the names of some famous introverts they included the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein--and I don't mind being grouped with them.

Indeed, as I said to Kimmie during the show, society seems to advance mainly through the efforts of introverts.

But what is the deeper meaning of introversion and extroversion, if these are real traits? The professors on the show put it down to brain chemistry--always a weak and unsatisfying explanation for me. No, to my mind, it raises the fascinating question of identity, and I see introversion/extroversion in terms of it.

I think that when we're born, we are immediately faced with the task of understanding our world--making sense of the barrage of inputs. Gradually we have to sort our experience into two categories: things that are "us", and things that are "not us". When we form a more or less conscious idea of a single thing that can be called "us", then we have arrived at a sense of identity. It is a learned thing: we learn about ourselves in the same way we learn about the world--as an already existent fact, or set of facts. We discover who we are, just we discover what the world is and how it works.

This process of discovery never stops. We learn about ourselves continually, up until we die, just as we learn about the world (provided we are willing to learn). This continued learning about ourselves is what is known as maturation or individuation. For, just as when we learn something new about the world, we have to make allowances for that fact in our thinking and behavior, so when we learn something new about ourselves must we make allowances for that fact.

I believe that the terms extrovert and introvert point to whether one's main orientation is toward learning about the world without, or toward learning about the world within--for both worlds are of unknown scope and depth. And they are no doubt, in some way, mirrors of each other, so that to know one deeply is to know the other by reflection.

Those are my thoughts, based on much introverted reflection.

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