Please Leave the Introverts Alone (So We Can Bring More)

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I was taking my cigarette break earlier this afternoon when my colleague, who happens to be a fellow INFP, told me about a TED talk she watched. She said that she remembered my rant on Twitter about open space office. 

INFP is Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception (an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of sixteen personality types. Take the test here to figure out your MBTI type).

I tweeted how I loathe open space office because it’s distracting, and I required solitude to function correctly. The TED talk my colleague referred to is a TED talk by Susan Cain, the author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. I haven’t read the book until now because it’s quite expensive, around IDR 280,000-ish if I’m not mistaken, but nonetheless, I immensely enjoyed Susan Cain’s talk.

I include the link to the video below because apparently I no longer able to upload video unless I’m using WordPress premium. Damn you WordPress!


The Misconception of Introversion

Susan is an introvert, obviously. As an introvert, she realized how the social construction always favors extroverts compared to introverts. Introverts are almost always deemed as shy even though that’s not the case. Susan began her talk by telling the story of her first summer camp in which she brought a suitcase full of books and instead, she was deemed as ‘troubled’ for not actively excited the whole time about the summer camp. I chuckled when I watched this because it reminded me of people’s concerned look when I’m too quiet even though I’m just having a party inside my head by observing passers-by or quietly watching the conversation. Susan then proceeds to tell on how shyness is not equal to introversion – this is the natural bias held by the society. Shyness, she said, is ‘fear of social judgment’ while Introversion is about how people respond to stimulation. This is one of the most common misconceptions about introversion that introverts are shy. I’m an introvert, and I know a bunch of introverts who I’m pretty sure are not shy. My close friends and family will be aware that I’m far from being shy, if anything, I’m highly confident to the point of being vain. I, along with most introverts, are easy to judge as being anti-social because we isolated ourself from the clamorous noises of collaborative office space, crowded pantry, and loud party – we rather have a laid-back gathering with a few close friends where we can talk things beyond the surface of everyday chatters.

Introversion and Creativity

The second most important thing that Susan mentioned is about today culture and its’ relation to creativity and productivity. Because extroverts are favored, today’s workplace and school are designed for an extrovert. Most office now is an open office plan. We’re encouraged to collaborate almost all the time with most tasks being group assignment, and brainstorming meetings happened often – this is particularly the case and happened to me when I still work for an advertising agency. But then Susan reaffirm my belief that solitude is essential for creativity. I wrote about it when I still work for an ad agency, and I found the everyday noises diminish my time to think of a creative solution to a problem. Why would brainstorming be counter-productive? Because, humans, scientifically, have a tendency to mirror others when we gather. We unconsciously think of the same thing and even agreeing to things just because we’re jumbled together in one space. Susan then gave an example about Darwin who took long walks to the wood and Dr Seuss who locked himself in his office when he was writing.

Okay, the same thing is true in our workplaces. Now, most of us work in open plan offices, without walls, where we are subject to the constant noise and gaze of our coworkers.” – Susan Cain. 

But of course, like Susan, I’m not proposing to abolish group work or stop collaborating. Group work and collaboration is essential as well, it is through collaboration that we’ll be able to come up with an innovative and creative solution coming from all sort of different ideas. However, it is extremely hard for me, as an introvert to come up with ideas when I have very few times to be completely quiet – just to sit and absorb my surrounding. Nowadays I have more time to sit and just read after office hours because I no longer work long hours like before – this time is my golden, precious time, that I value highly. I often had to turn down people’s invitations to hang out just because I want to have my solitude moment. In my solitude moment, I could read books, watch films, see countless saved unread articles in my Pockets or Feedly apps and come back refreshed with stories or ideas I’ve discovered. I would always learn something when I sit quietly and read or watch or listen to music which then I could bring to the table when I sit in a brainstorming session or just hanging out with friends. My book, film, and music recommendations and my vast knowledge of unimportant things like how Daenerys’s ancestor managed to conquer Westeros, or why Moonlight is more important to win the Oscars rather than La La Land, all come from the time where I sit with a dim light of my desk lamp accompanied by two glass of coffee and a pack of cigarettes.

Susan Cain came with three calls to actions that she mentioned in her video, and I, I would like to plead for the action to leave the introverts alone. Let them be lost in their own thoughts, let them discover something that might be or might not be important to you but you can still find amusing, let them read their books, let them wear their headphones at work and pretend that they didn’t hear a thing when they actually didn’t listen to any kinds of music at all. I would like to request that please don’t judge them anti-social or gak asik just because they prefer to be at home during weekends, please don’t come uninvited to a coffee shop when they want to spend time alone, please don’t ask them what’s wrong when they have this dreamy, seemingly at lost face while staring at the sky or people passing by. Please leave the introverts alone, so we can come back to the real world with our thousands of ideas which you might or might not laugh at.

There will be no Harry Potter, The Lord of The Ring, and A Song of Ice and Fire if the introverts are not left alone. There would be no Winnie the Pooh nor The Little Prince if A.A. Milne or Antoine de Saint-Exupery were not lost at their imaginative thoughts.

Please forgive us if we seem distant and somewhat anti-social, we just need time to face the world and gather our power in the world that never stop talking.

“So I wish you the best of all possible journeys and the courage to speak softly.” – Susan Cain. 

Watch Susan Cain TED talk: The Power of Introverts in here.

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