Extroverts rule, OK?

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Have you ever thought our Western culture is out of balance? You might think that it’s too male, too white, or too materialistic, for example. But have you ever considered that it’s too extrovert? In Western culture, I believe introverts are consistently overlooked and undervalued, to the detriment of all. Extroverts rule, but it’s not OK.

The problem

Our Western culture believes that extrovert personalities are much more desirable than introvert personalities. Extrovert is good, introvert is bad.

However, it hasn’t always been this way. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, points to the fact that throughout history there have been references to two distinct personality types:

  • men of action, e.g. the hunters, warriors, adventurers – the doers (extroverts)
  • men of contemplation, e.g. the priests, advisors, poets – the thinkers (introverts)

The balance of power between the two was probably always slightly tipped towards the men of action, but on the whole, both personality types were valued in our society. The doers needed the thinkers just as much as the thinkers needed the doers.

But fast forward to the 20th Century, with the rise of industrialisation and urbanisation, and the balance of power changed dramatically, tipping the scales right over to the extrovert side. Now, what you look like, sound like and do on the outside has become much more important than what you’re thinking on the inside. Just look at our obsession with celebrity lifestyles, for example.

I believe this dominance of extroversion in our culture comes at a great cost – both to individuals and to society.

The personal cost

Up to 50% of the population are introverts. So if our culture believes that extrovert personalities are more desirable, that means potentially 50% of the population has grown up thinking that they’re flawed in some way, that what they are is not good enough. I know I certainly did.

But introversion is not about social skills. It is simply that we introverts have a biological need for quieter, calmer, less stimulating environments in order to thrive. This means that introverts consistently struggle to be heard in a culture that rewards the loudest, the quickest and the most dynamic.

The cost to society

By devaluing introvert traits, our whole society is poorer. We have lost a vital counter-weight in the struggle to keep our society balanced. Introvert strengths such as quiet reflection, wisdom and depth have been sidelined. The doers no longer value the thinkers – and that’s dangerous.

Typically ‘men of action’ act first and think later, and this has many advantages. But without any thinkers to put the brakes on, the doers can career recklessly out of control, as quick decisions, risk-taking and sound-bites win out.

Some argue, for example, that this is exactly what happened during the banking crisis a few years ago, where highly extrovert personalities dominated the decision-making with disastrous consequences. The few remaining quiet voices urging caution and restraint were systematically ignored.

The solution?

A more equal balance of power between introvert and extrovert personality traits in Western culture would be to the benefit of our whole society. Though this might seem a big ask, I believe there is much we can do as individuals to change things – just being more aware is a good place to start.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

  • If you are an introvert, know that your quiet strengths are desperately needed in our society.
  • If you are an extrovert, notice the quieter people around you, and ask them what they think. You might just learn something…

NB: A note on the image used in this post. Rhododendrons are extremely popular plants, much loved for their large, colourful flowers which make a spectacular display in any garden. But left to spread uncontrolled, these beautiful shrubs are rapidly taking over large areas of our natural woodland and heaths to the detriment of all other plants, particularly our more delicate wildflowers, which cannot grow because it is too dark under the shadow of the bushes.

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