Yes I’m an introvert, and no that doesn’t mean I’m a loner

I have a feeling that some of my Twitter followers (or WhatsApp contacts, or former Instagram followers or Facebook friends…or just…my friends) may have begun to think that I am an unstable loner who complains a lot about being the ‘misunderstood introvert’ and constantly prefers to be left alone, and probably suffers from minor social deficits. I’ll admit it- I do (complain, that is- not the social deficits!), and of late I have complained a lot about thinking, introversion and solitude. Hence…here we are.

Maybe everyone has just jumped on the bandwagon of ignorance and totally misunderstood introversion by equating it with loneliness

When I was in primary (and middle, and high) school, every parent’s evening was exactly the same. Every year. Identical feedback. Great student, does her work, completes it to a high standard, BUT she needs to contribute more in discussions, she needs to put her hand up to answer questions, she’s very quiet. And even now at university, I can’t say that things are much different. I’m pretty sure I am that girl who people see around, sometimes have to work with or speak to, but don’t know the name of. Admittedly, I sometimes walk into a lecture theatre, see someone who’s apparently been on my course for the last 3 years and wonder why I don’t recognise them, let alone know their name. I am, by all standards, an introvert.

Until very recently, I felt guilty for having these qualities. During school, it was frustrating that I was getting negative feedback for something that seemed was my very nature. I even remember one teacher hinting that I don’t get into enough (any) trouble- imagine how badly I wanted to pull my hair out and scream, ‘what do you want from me?!’ And again, at university, I am that downer who will bail on every other outing or would prefer to read a novel or watch Ted Talks or weird-ish documentaries on YouTube at home rather than try out a fancy restaurant or go to a conference…about teeth. Like I said, until very recently, I felt guilty. And what would I do to ‘make up’ for this oh so vile quality? Force myself, of course. Force myself to ‘act’ friendlier, or go to things I really didn’t want to attend, or speak just for the sake of not being the quiet one. Lucky for me, I am a rubbish actress. All my short-lived efforts resulted in was a really messed up case of over-commitment, more frustration, and a ‘what have I become?!’ melodramatic crisis.

We have so many narrations from the Holy Prophet and Imams encouraging us to give some time to ourselves every now and then.

And then it dawned on me- maybe these expectations from the people around me are actually wrong. Just because so many people say something, it’s not necessarily correct. Maybe my teachers were wrong for seeing introversion as a negative quality, maybe it’s actually okay to want to stay at home instead of being out all the time, maybe, as the desperate-times-desperate-measures article in Psychology Today said, introversion might be a good thing! And then, I thought some more, and I realised, that maybe everyone has just jumped on the bandwagon of ignorance and totally misunderstood introversion by equating it with loneliness and socially inept people and all the rest of these incorrect and inaccurate connotations. And MAYBE this is why society and the world is out to eradicate introversion and make us all suffer in a world of loud, speak-before-you-think party animal extroverts! I’m kidding. No really…I’m kidding.

On a serious note however, our society really does lean in bias towards extroversion, and an unhealthy version at that. The education system is just one example that I’m sure most of us can relate to. Teamwork is great, but how many times are students given the opportunity to show their individual, original thought process? In fact, when is anyone ever given a chance to think?! I feel like the entire process of thinking has just been disregarded and forgotten. Logically, or at least in my head, this is how life (or a question asked at school) works:

  • You are presented with a problem.
  • You THINK about the problem.
  • From your thoughts, you derive a seemingly plausible solution.

 This, is what I believed happened at school:

  • We were presented with a problem.
  • We had to come up with a solution, no matter how ridiculous or nonsensical it was, or whichever search engine we got it from, otherwise we would be condemned as ‘not participating enough’.

A lot of teachers said ‘there are no silly answers’. Well…there kind of are. I completely support the idea of not reproaching a student for having an incorrect answer, but surely even those incorrect answers must come from somewhere, some thought process? Surely they too must be justified by the students who put them forward? I do not support the idea of speaking, for the sake of speaking. As Plato so eloquently put it:

“A wise man has something to say, whereas a fool has to say something.”

Another example is what I mentioned before – the pressure and expectation and disapproval from those around us. There have been times when some of us are baffled about why on earth anyone would choose solitude from time to time, or instances when they are genuinely concerned and wonder ‘what’s wrong’. Parenthetically, I can’t express how beneficial some regular alone time has proven to be! It’s no wonder we have so many narrations from the Holy Prophet and Imams (peace be upon them) encouraging us to give some time to ourselves every now and then. It really is the time when our best solutions and ideas are born. I’m not going to bore you with history and figures but if you’re really interested…here you go.

More examples of this social bias include studies which have shown that patients are more likely to trust loud, confidence-effusing, well spoken doctors who actually don’t know their stuff very well, over quieter, more thoughtful doctors who in fact know their stuff extremely well. In fact, it’s also been shown that the quieter ones who might seem a little hesitant are more likely to get things right because they give things a lot more thought.

I rest my case.

So, now that we have established that the world is out to get society is extremely slightly biased in this respect, what’s the solution? Well, I have stopped feeling guilty! I am no longer apologetic for things I don’t want to do. Don’t get me wrong- I do leave the house, I do go out, I see people, I socialise, but everything in moderation. In fact, I have once again begun fully enjoying my introversion by, well, reading, nurturing orchids, the weird documentaries, the blogging (Hallelujah) and other random things. Alhamdulillah. I feel content. I don’t mind being the quiet one in the room- that’s just who I am. Silence is not a sign of stupidity or timidity or any other belittling quality, and solitude is not synonymous with loneliness.

introvert not loner

At this point I guess it’s appropriate to clarify to any readers that I have no problem with extroverts. Most of my friends, I would say, are extrovert. I have no issue with extroversion, but I do think that a reminder is needed that society needs its share of introverts too- there’s nothing wrong with introversion! It’s not a deficit; it’s just a difference. If every person on this planet had similar qualities, humanity probably wouldn’t progress very far. Introverts and extroverts complement each other, that’s how the world has functioned since creation. You need us. Just kidding…heh.

by Zahira Mamdani