When I was ten years old, my fifth-grade teacher introduced a new strategy to my class’s curriculum: Clock Partners. An instructional strategy, “Clock Partners” had students fill out a page with blanks on each hour of a cartoon clock with the name of a classmate, so that when the time came for partner work, there wouldn’t be a scramble to not end up alone.
As I sat at my unbalanced desk in the corner of the classroom, I watched as everyone else filled out their pages with ease, waiting for someone to make eye contact with me and possibly take pity. I was new to the school, having just transferred from the old school that I’d been at for seven years, and everyone was a stranger.
When my teacher saw that I had no one’s name on my paper, she told me to try and step outside my comfort zone, that my shyness would get me nowhere in life. But even then I knew that this wasn’t shyness, this was just a part of me as much as being a writer is a part of me. So why was I being condemned for it?
“The Extrovert Ideal,” coined by author Susan Cain in her 2012 book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking”, is a value system describing “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”
“Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world,” Cain says, “discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.” Despite my nature, I, like everyone, have been subject to it before; whether it's caused you to have more pride in your sociability or have doubts about your value in a classroom.
This ideology can be traced back to industrial America in the 19th century, where the nation changed to “a culture of personality” due to the rise of the “businessman,” according to Warren Susman.
This ideology quickly caught on worldwide, being the root cause of self-help books and overemphasis on groupthink and collaboration in school and work environments.
Though recognizing one end of the personality spectrum as something of value isn’t inherently bad, recognizing it as so valuable that the other end might as well not even matter is—and this is exactly what the Extrovert Ideal inherently does.
Extroversion itself is not an issue, but the fact that it is the ideal is.
How can we expect all populations of the various personality types to thrive when we’ve collectively agreed that being sociable is a greater fear than any actual reward?
Even as I was researching this topic, I noticed a distinct difference in diagrams depicting opposing traits of extraversion and introversion. While the extroversion sections listed high self-esteem, social confidence, and easy-going as traits, the introversion section listed uptightness, timid, and overly serious.
In prizing extrovert traits so much that we only see the negative of the opposite type of personality, we fail to recognize reflectiveness, self-awareness, and being able to find comfort in oneself as something of equal value.
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Because so many cultures emphasize the strong-headed “alpha”, there is immense pressure to be a relentless socialite.
As cultures become more and more aware of how deeply embedded the Extrovert Ideal is in all aspects of life, we will hopefully move towards change; a world in which there is no battle of the personalities, no uplifting of one end of the spectrum, and erasing of another, and where no fifth-grade teacher ever sees their student’s introversion as a weakness, but rather as what it really is: another magical way to be.