I always thought personalities were like fingerprints. Each different from one another, each marking their territories in a way no one else could fill or match. I found it deceiving and unfair to categorise them as ‘introverts’ or ‘extroverts’ or anything in-between, since human beings react differently with respect to the company they keep, the circumstances they deal with and the experiences they gain.
Emotional metamorphosis can make the biggest social animals hibernate for months in the impenetrable cocoons they build around their minds. Vulnerability can crack open the most inwardly growing hearts. This very unpredictability, this magical capability we all possess to surprise our own selves, is what makes us strikingly similar to each other irrespective of our differences in comprehension/communication skills, methods of reflection or the extent of social interaction.
When Myers-Briggs personality types started getting popular, I was extremely sceptical about the fact that the personalities of six billion people could be so easily characterised under 16 types. As I read deeper, digesting Carl Jung’s theories on introversion and extraversion, I found how subjective, illogical, random and baseless it was.
He categorised extroverts as those who derived their energy from socialising or frequent interaction, sought breadth of knowledge over depth and were action-oriented. Introverts, according to him, derived more energy from their internal environment, reflection and were mostly thought-oriented.
The theory further labelled the reasoning ability of people, their discipline and creativity through vague parameters which could be easily seen in the kind of questions the test asked you to answer.
“Do you try to respond to your e-mails as soon as possible and cannot stand a messy inbox?”, “Does winning a debate matter less to you than making sure no one gets upset?”, “Are your travel plans usually well thought out?” These are questions whose answers could tell very little about your priorities, your general lifestyle or how much energy you derived from your inside or outside.
A person hating crowded places could still love adventure and hence love travelling; a talkative and entertaining type could still be a nerdy bibliophile; a confident, socially-skilled man could still hate going out. Where did it land them on the spectrum then?
Technically, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) scale should show a bimodal distribution with most people scoring near the ends of the scales, thus dividing people into either an extroverted or an introverted psychological type. However, most of the studies found that scores on the individual scales were actually distributed in a centrally peaked manner, similar to a normal distribution, indicating that the majority of people were actually in the middle of the scale and were thus neither clearly introverted nor extroverted. Therefore, no one was of one particular kind and people were a lot more similar than we thought.
Also, since the personality test depended on us answering about our own selves, the result was what we wanted to think of us and not what we really are. This does not fulfil the prime purpose of the test. I was baffled to find I was an INTP – introverted, intuitive, thinking and perceptive – while in real life, I am the pioneer of the noisiest parties and struggle with even the tiniest of decisions.
The theory and labelling may appear harmless but often lead to major stereotyping which becomes institutionalised. It depicts some people in a more advantageous position than others because of presentational skills, hence casting them as predatory and overpowering in social scenarios, while the silent ones are assumed to be overlooked despite harbouring better ideas.
In fact, the presumption that the quieter ones brim with better ideas comes from the alleged notion that socialising and quality reading are inversely proportional. All fallacies with no concrete evidence underneath, but enough to satisfy unanimous personal insufficiencies. On one hand, the conventional introverts are projected as suffering from a handicap which invites discrimination and on the other, extroversion is equated to shallowness, even though the amount of information such categorisations give us about people is hardly enough to guess the depth of their thoughts or criticise the quality of lives they lead.
A book written by Susan Cain claimed introverts made better leaders than extroverts, tipping the scale with examples of handpicked heroes who described themselves as ‘soft-spoken’ and ‘quiet’ and building romantic arguments reeking of selection bias on shaky grounds.
She says, “The introverted tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person’s shift in mood, say, or a light bulb burning a touch too brightly.”
Had there been a book justifying extraversion, I am sure this kind of broad generalisation could have been made in their defence too. Quite clearly, observational skills and appreciation of art comes with critical thinking, which is independent of our talking abilities or party interests. Silence need not mean intellect and social need not mean shallow.
I have often found myself seated at a corner in a pub, amidst a crowd of people not in their senses, howling and growling to loud music and venting their frustration after a hectic work week. Even in all that congestion, I still feel at home, surrounded by faces who are readily being themselves for a change, dancing randomly with each other without caring about acquaintance or introduction, just out of happiness and harmony.
I love the chaos of festive times, when celebration pours all the people out of their houses and into the streets. I love metro trains and market places and bookstores and libraries, because people and the idea of association are so interesting to me, even though I like being a distant spectator of this everyday carnival, rather than being a participant of it.
Everything is worth an observation if looked at with inquiring eyes. Nothing is so simple to be understood only by seclusive internal reflection and nothing so complicated to be missed by having a quick laughter or short conversation. We are all thinkers and we are all talkers. All that we are looking for is a perfect trade-off; a compatible company, a perfect circumstance and the right time.