(Cartoon above found at http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/archives/2008/Jun/.)
While looking for something else entirely, I stumbled across this article from The Atlantic, published several years ago: "Caring for your Introvert," by Jonathan Rauch. It really struck home with me. This guy understands me and my ilk. He's one of us.
More than once I have been at a lively poker table for a while when somebody says something like, "Everybody is having a good time except for that guy" (pointing at me). It apparently never dawns on them that it might be possible for somebody to be having a perfectly good time in a way that doesn't happen to match theirs, or have the same outward manifestations. My first impulse is to protest, "I am having a good time," but I don't, because I really don't care whether he thinks I am having fun or not, and it's not worth the time and effort to try to convince him. That sort of person would never understand anyway.
I especially liked Rauch making this point:
With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate
social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society,
being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of
happiness, confidence, leadership.
But why should that be? Why is being extroverted normal and introverted abnormal? This seems to be one of the last remaining acceptable knee-jerk prejudices: to consider there to be something wrong with a person because he is quiet, reserved, thoughtful, speaking only when he feels he has something meaningful to contribute. We give lip service to the concept of diversity--as long as it's about race, sex, age, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Diversity along the extrovert/introvert axis is not generally welcomed.
I can recall at times in the past finding myself not easily fitting in to some group, and, when discussing the situation with a friend, being told, basically, that I have to engage in more small talk, laugh at other people's jokes even when they aren't funny, feign interest in the stories they tell about their lives and ask questions to prompt the telling of more, and various other gimmicks. All of which are rather like asking me to put on a dress and a wig and pretend to be female: the idea is some mixture of frightening, insulting, and ridiculous. The obvious question is this: If the group doesn't like me for who and what I actually am, why should I pretend to be otherwise? Why is it my responsibility to either change or fake being somebody I'm not? Don't other people have some minimal duty to be tolerant and accepting of me as I am?
Put more defiantly, if I'm not going to be valued for the assets that I bring to a group, well, screw them. It's far more their loss than mine. If they aren't interested in discovering my intelligence, experience, wit, kindness, insight, skills, etc., all because I'm not highly talkative or animated in body language, then they're too narrow-minded for me to care what they think of me.
I've read a lot of Mike Caro's stuff. I value his insights. I've learned a lot from him--probably more than from any other single poker writer. He has written endlessly about how socializing at the poker table is profitable, for the simple reason that people will willingly lose more money to you if they like you. Of all of his advice, I find that by far the hardest to implement. Maybe I should. Maybe someday I will.
But right now, I'm still happiest and most comfortable sitting quietly, watching and listening intently to the action and conversation, but contributing to the social milieu only on those rare occasions when I have something that I think is especially clever or important or useful to contribute. If opponents think that I'm dangerous as a result, that's fine with me. If, conversely, they think I'm timid and easy to bully, great--let them try. If they think I'm aloof and arrogant, well, OK--I don't really care and can't do much about that impression.
Once in a while I find myself next to a fellow traveler, one who is as quiet and thoughtful as I am. I sometimes discern a ferocious intelligence behind the watchful eyes, like a Ferrari engine that is just idling, but ready to rev up to its full, immense power at the touch of the throttle when needed. Sometimes we recognize each other as kindred spirits and strike up a transient friendship for the duration of the poker session--the wallflowers forming a tiny bouquet. We exchange knowing glances at the idiots who run their mouths endlessly but their brains rarely. We trade rolling eyes at the inane arguments over which running back is better. We mutually note the idiotic call from Seat 4, and simultaneously make our private plans of how to exploit his weakness. I like that kind of experience, though it's not common.
Mostly I get ignored, made fun of, and/or misunderstood. Mostly I'm used to it, and don't care much. But once in a while, like right now, I feel like letting people know the real story of what's going on.