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Exploring a world that harbors a subtle bigotry against introverts

Walking on RailroadI’ve been reading the book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, and while I haven’t finished it yet, it has truly been an eye-opening read.  (If you’re an introvert, seriously, GET THIS BOOK.)  Incredibly, it touched on nearly everything I’ve come to observe about the world of Christianity, dating, education and work that always felt… wrong to me.

The book exposes what was in fact a culture-wide shift in perspective on how one succeeds in life that began in the early 20th century, spearheaded by none other than Dale Carnegie.  Evidence of this shift could be found in part by simply making a comparison of the advice manuals in the 19th century to the manuals of the 20th century that Carnegie helped to shape.  Using word counts, the 19th century guides often resorted to words like these:

  • Citizenship
  • Duty
  • Work
  • Golden deeds
  • Honor
  • Reputation
  • Morals
  • Manners
  • Integrity

Cain writes:

But the new guides celebrated qualities that were–no matter how easy Dale Carnegie made it sound–trickier to acquire.  Either you embodied these qualities or you didn’t:

Magnetic
Fascinating
Stunning
Attractive
Glowing
Dominant
Forceful
Energetic

Now why does this sound so FAMILIAR?  I realized that this described almost to a T the VERY same traits the “manosphere” has long since recognized as the necessary qualities a man must have in order to attract women.  Far from being a case study on sexual attraction, this actually appears to be part of a MUCH larger cultural phenomenon, one that engulfs nearly every area of life and dictates how successful we would be not only in dating and relationships, but also in our careers and education too.

Speaking of education, Cain quotes a dean in her research as an example of what college admissions officers look for in candidates:

“…in screening applications from secondary schools it was only common sense to take into account not only what the college wanted but what, four years later, corporations’ recruiters would want.  ‘They like a pretty gregarious, active type, so we find that the best man is the one who’s had an 80 or 85 average in school and plenty of extracurricular activity.  We see little use for the brilliant introvert.'”

This bias against introverts runs so deep that some view introversion as a pathology, not merely a distinctive personality trait, or at the very least a problem that needs to be dealt with.  Rather than being able to embrace their introversion, introverts are forced from the very beginning of their adult lives to abandon their natural proclivities if they’re ever to have any hope of getting ahead in life.

In today’s world, it’s no longer about quality, but appearance.  It’s the one who speaks the loudest that gets promoted, not the one who actually put in the work.  In the book Cain described a Toastmasters meeting in which an attractive brunette performs an exercise called “Truth or Lie,” where she must tell a group of participants a story, after which they must decide whether to believe her or not.  She tells her story, and when the room is queried, everyone believed her story was real.  She then gleefully admitted that not one word she said was the truth.  She confided later on that because of the competition in the workplace, it was important to keep her “skills” sharp.  Um, what?

Cain notes:

But what do “sharp skills” look like?  Should we be so proficient at self-presentation that we can dissemble without anyone suspecting?  Must we learn to stage-manage our voices, gestures, and body language until we can tell–sell–any story we want?  These seem venal aspirations, a marker of how far we’ve come–and not in a good way–since the days of Dale Carnegie’s childhood.

In another example Cain spoke of a group exercise conducted at Harvard Business School, the theme revolving around trying to survive at a hypothetical arctic substation.  The idea was to promote working together as a group and improve collaboration.  One group in particular had a member with extensive experience in the backwoods, yet because he was an introvert, he suggested his ideas too softly, and was hence ignored.  Of course the group failed miserably in their exercise, because they listened to the most vocal participants (despite their utter lack of experience in survival skills) rather than the soft spoken man who had been the true wellspring of knowledge.

I’ve met these loud, braying types before, and I never ceased to be amazed at how easily they could forcefully sell themselves as experts in whatever field they were working in, despite not having one ounce of actual knowledge in it.  The hubris is just incredible.  They basically lie, BUT they lie very well, and because of it they’re the ones that get the plush assignments, the best jobs, and the highest paying gigs.

It works in dating too.  Of numerous examples I can think of, I still remember one where the guy flat out lied about everything to the girl he was dating.  He simply played the game he needed to play to attract a girl, and it worked just long enough for her to marry him.  Once he had her though he dropped the charade and of course their marriage went to pieces as a result.  It’s hard to argue the effectiveness of his approach though: had he always been honest about himself she never would have been attracted to him.  And for an introvert who believes honesty is the best policy, it can be painful constantly watching a world succeed and get ahead on lies and deceit while he continues to trudge in the mud.

Even worse, this cultural infatuation and bias towards the extroverted has plagued modern Christianity as well.  Cain also took the time to interview an introverted pastor named Adam McHugh while visiting Rick Warren’s Saddleback church.  As examples of this bias she mentioned a few job advertisements she read recently on what large churches require of those interested in being a rector:  “The priest must be… an extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player.”  “If the first letter {of your Myers-Briggs personality score} isn’t an E [for extrovert] think twice… I’m sure our Lord was [an extrovert].”

McHugh tells Cain:

The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion.  The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people.  It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out.  And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension.  It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’d like.’  It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.”

Cain further writes:

Contemporary evangelicalism says that every person you fail to meet and proselytize is another soul you might have saved.  It also emphasizes building community among confirmed believers, with many churches encouraging (or even requiring) their members to join extracurricular groups organized around every conceivable subject–cooking, real estate investing, skateboarding.

Discussing the experience of the Saddleback church service, McHugh notes his discomfort with it all:

It sets up an extroverted atmosphere that can be difficult for introverts like me.  Sometimes I feel like I’m going through the motions.  The outward enthusiasm and passion that seems to be part and parcel of Saddleback’s culture doesn’t feel natural.  Not that introverts can’t be eager and enthusiastic, but we’re not overtly expressive as extroverts.  At a place like Saddleback, you can start questioning your own experience of God.  Is it really as strong as that of other people who look the part of the devout believer?”

“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme,” Cain writes, “If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love.  It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”

{McHugh} knows that meaningful change will come slowly to a religious culture that sees extroversion not only as a personality trait but also as an indicator of virtue.  Righteous behavior is not so much the good we do behind closed doors when no one is there to praise us; it is what we “put out into the world.”  Just as Tony Robbins’ aggressive upselling is OK with his fans because spreading helpful ideas is part of being a good person, and just as Harvard Business School expects its students to be talkers because this is seen as a prerequisite of leadership, so have many evangelicals come to associate godliness with sociability.

Astonishing.  I’ve always felt like a fish on dry land, but that feeling extended to almost every aspect of my life.  It didn’t matter if it was church/Christianity, my job, or trying to find the girl of my dreams: there was a common denominator that seemed to define my frustrations with it all, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly, until I read this book.  In essence, I’m dealing with a culture that has evolved to reward only the extroverted.  It’s not so much that being extroverted in and of itself is wrong, but that society has come to revere it in its most extreme form, all the while regarding the introverted at best as a peculiarity, and at worst as a pathology or disease.  Not even church can provide a respite from this.

Cain’s book helped me gain an immense understanding of the world we live in, but I’m still left to wonder where I go from here.  Should I play the game like everyone else, push myself to become more extroverted and “fake it till I make it?”  That does seem to be the advice of many.  If I’m ever to attract women, move up the career ladder, or establish an authoritative presence in the Christian community, then I have to get with the program.  Adapt as they say, or die.

But as a Christian, do I really have to resign myself to playing the world’s game of extreme extroversion in order to succeed?  Or did God assign me another path to follow, one different from the path the world (and most Christian churches) expect me to travel on?

I know in some respects, I could afford to be more outgoing, to get out of my shell and learn how to talk to people.  But I also know there’s a line that can be crossed, where I’m not merely learning to become extroverted in a way that’s still comfortable to me, but where I start to deny who I am.  There’s a reason why God made me an introvert, and I can sense the danger in trying to repudiate His work.   I may not like it, and may resent how my introversion has “handicapped” my ability to succeed in life, but then again, I also feel an inner sense of peace when I stop (to use a biblical phrase) “kicking against the pricks.”

Rather than blindly accept things as they are, maybe it’s more important that I accept who I am, and let the chips fall where they may.

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