Extroverts are happy and popular, always laughing, making friends, and hanging out with people. But they never think and they don’t read. Introverts, on the other hand, are sad, lonely, insecure, and rather pathetic. But they’re smart, they like books, and they think a lot.
Who would you rather be? And you have to pick, because apparently those are your only options.
For the last week or so we’ve been reflecting on personality: specifically introversion, extroversion, and how each can become an excuse for avoiding God-given opportunities and responsibilities. (See I’m Just Not Wired That Way and I’m Not Wired That Way Either.)
As I was searching for images to use on those posts, however, I was struck by the images that popped up. I’ve heard people talk before about how we portray introversion/extroversion in our media, but it was different to see the stark contrasts for myself. And, although I realize that it’s impossible to capture all the nuances of personality in a few pictures, I still think images like this help shape how we view ourselves and the people around us.
The Loner vs. The Friend
No surprise that most of the images focused on the idea that introverts are lonely and extroverts are not. And pictures like this disguise two dangerous lies. First, the pictures always suggest that introverts should be part of the group. That they’re not means there’s something wrong with them. The last thing I want is for my daughter to be constantly bombarded by messages that it’s somehow unacceptable to enjoy being alone.
The flipside of this, however, is the dangerous presumption that extroverts are never lonely. We tend not to look at the people in the right-hand picture and assume that they feel lonely, isolated, trapped in their superficial and meaningless lifestyle, unable to find someone who truly knows them, alone in the crowd. Of course, I’m not saying that all extroverts feel this way. But some do. And our cultural assumption that extroverts are never lonely may easily cause us to miss that fact.
The Depressed vs. The Joyful
This one almost seems too obvious for comment. In the pictures, introverts almost never smile. At the very least, they’re serious. But they usually look downright sad. Of course, that’s probably because they’re lonely all the time.
Extroverts, on the other hand, can’t stop smiling. And jumping. For some reason, extroverts are always jumping. Apparently they’re lives are so awesome that they’re constantly leaping for joy. (It’s also possible that the pictures think all extroverts have ADHD and can’t sit still for more than a few seconds.)
The problems here are many and obvious. Hopefully we all know by know that there is no correlation between introversion and sadness or extroversion and happiness. But the problem is that even though we know this is true, our pictures say otherwise. And we get the message.
The Mouthed vs. the Mouthless
Extroverts, on the other hand, seem to have a hard time closing their mouths. They’re always talking or laughing at something. You’d think they’re jaws would get tired after a while, but they’re probably in good shape from all that exercise.
And this was really the focus of the last two posts. I commented on how introversion can become an excuse for not talking, and Matt discussed how extroversion can be an excuse for not talking meaningfully. As with everything, dangers lie on both ends of the spectrum.
The Thoughtful vs. The Party Animal
Extroverts, on the other hand, don’t seem to think much. They’re too busy laughing and partying. Indeed, from the pictures, most extroverts have a drinking problem. They always have a drink in their hand. The life of the party.
And I didn’t see a single picture of an extrovert holding a book. That’s probably because they couldn’t put their drink down long enough. To make it worse, one of the pictures that came up for introverts was just of a woman standing in a library. Nothing about her suggested her personality other than the fact that she was in a library. Of course, extroverts would never go to a library. Too many books, too much quiet. All that thinking.
Once again we find the extremes.
Living with the Caricature
Of course, all of this is terribly simplistic. We know that people are more complex than this and that few (if any) fit neatly into either of these caricatures. As someone commented on one of the earlier posts, recent research suggests that many people are more rightly categorized as “ambiverts,” manifesting characteristics of both personality types.
But, even if these are caricatures, they’re popular ones. And we internalize popular caricatures in ways we don’t even realize. So we glibly assume that the smiling extrovert is happy, never noticing the loneliness beneath. Or we look at those same people and assume that they’re superficial socialites, uninterested in deeper reflection. And we do the same with introverts when we focus on their presumed loneliness, missing what might be more significant challenges for them. Or when we interpret their introversion as being unfriendly and standoffish. Both of those are powerful caricatures that shape how we understand and minister to people.
Of course, as a parent, I immediately think about my daughters. How is my more introverted daughter processing these pictures, which she undoubtedly sees every day. Do they make her think of herself as sad and lonely? Do they make her wonder if there’s something wrong with wanting to be alone? What about my more extroverted daughter? Do these make her think that her social and fun-loving personality means that she’s not cut out for books and self-reflection? Neither of these caricatures fits either of my daughters, but both caricatures are powerful. So I wonder.