February 14, 2013

Introverts: Part 4) "Hell Is Other People at Breakfast"


I identify with this quote from Sartre. I could handle business lunches. I even looked forward to them in the days of the two-martini lunch. But I was appalled when people suggested a breakfast meeting.

My No. 1 resolution when I retired was "Never get involved in anything that requires attending meetings." I've never made a resolution that proved easier to keep.

Extroverts Dominate Public Life
Thank God for Obama. Before him, introverts like me were poorly represented in politics. When we look at past presidents, a few introverts come to mind: Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter... not our most inspiring leaders.

Coolidge is credited with a few good "introvert" quotes:
Don't you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still.
Another:
If you don't say anything, you won't be called upon to repeat it.
Ronald Reagan was a mix. He was very much the extrovert in his public, political life, but an introvert in his private life. There, Nancy seemed to be his only friend. He appeared aloof from everybody else, including his children.

Extrovert Clinton and Introvert Obama
Last year's presidential election campaign let us see up close the contrasting political styles of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Despite my own introversion, I admire and enjoy today's "happy warrior" politicians like Clinton and Biden. I feel the same way about JFK, LBJ (though he sometimes overdid it), and FDR.

The media characterized Obama's introversion with words like "reserved," "private," and "guarded." Those descriptions are very different from the upbeat words used to describe President Clinton's ebullient extroversion.

Even introverts like me are capable of buying into the bogus notion that introverts don't like people. I've been disappointed by Obama's reluctance to engage in the typical wheeling and dealing with Congress. I reluctantly admit to commenting: "Obama basically doesn't like people."

It is not true that introverts don't like people. I like people . . . but just in small doses.

 Susan Cain, whose video I posted on Monday, wrote a piece last fall, titled Must Great Leaders Be Gregarious? In it, she described Clinton and Obama as leaders:
Introverted leaders often possess an innate caution that may be more valuable than we realize. President Clinton’s extroversion served him well but may have contributed to conduct that almost derailed his presidency. It’s impossible to imagine the cautious and temperate Mr. Obama mired in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. 
Would it be better if Mr. Obama palled around with more senators, attended more cocktail parties, cut a schmoozier figure? Sure. P.R. is part of a politician’s job. And as the personality psychologist Brian Little says, we all need to act out of character occasionally, for the sake of work or people we love.
But on the long list of attributes of a successful president — or of any leader — an outgoing persona is low on the list. The charisma of ideas matters more than a leader’s gregarious charms.
I wonder if that last sentence can be true today, when media so often force us to pay more attention to personalities than ideas.

Some Final Thoughts and Quotes on Introversion
Much of what follows comes from Jonathan Rauch's popular essay "Caring for Your Introvert" which ran in the March, 2003 issue of Atlantic Monthly. His essay has served as a kind of manifesto for misunderstood introverts.

He dismisses the notion that introverts are simply shy (or even misanthropic). But introverts CAN find other people tiring. Rauch's own personal formula for social interaction? He needs about two hours alone for every hour he spends socializing with others.

How many people are introverts? Susan Cain thinks it's about a third of us. Some put it a little higher, but almost everybody agrees we're a minority. Rauch likes this quote (and so do I): Introverts are "a minority in the general population but a majority in the gifted population."

Are introverts arrogant? I'll let Rauch answer:
Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts. Also, it is probably due to our lack of small talk, a lack that extroverts often mistake for disdain. We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking, which is why their meetings never last less than six hours....
The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves.
Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books -- written, no doubt, by extroverts -- regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."
Right on!

But to my good friends who are extroverts -- I love you and I need you to keep my life in balance.  

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