While introverts recharge by spending time alone, extroverts tend to be more vocal. (Illustration by Hannah Han)
Harvard-Westlake High School

Opinion: Silence is Golden — Confronting the cultural bias against introverts

Two years ago in Human Development, Middle School Psychologist Kelly Decker distributed several packets of paper and a handful of sparkly mechanical pencils to our class and told us to fill out a test.

When met with 12 pairs of uncomprehending stares, she clarified, “This is going to determine where you lie on the scale of introversion and extroversion.”

For the next eight minutes, my class filled out several multiple-choice questions, ranging from “What would you do at a party?” to “What activity would you most likely do in your free time?”

When everyone finished, she showed us the key to the test, and we graded ourselves based on our answers, discerning where we each lay on the scale of introversion and extroversion.

Unsurprisingly, I was an introvert. Surprisingly, every single one of my classmates was on the extroverted side of the spectrum.

Ever since the beginning of elementary school, I knew that I was an introvert. It seemed obvious to me — I was labelled the “quiet one” by both my peers and my teachers, the latter of whom continuously urged me to participate more.

In class, I was always tentative to raise my hand, whereas others shared their opinions without being called upon, even if they didn’t know the answer.

During recess, I was the one who preferred to sit alone and read a book, while everyone else was out socializing and playing handball.

As I grew older, I began to question the definition of an “introvert” and the role that introverts play in our society.

From a young age, I was told that introverts are antisocial and shy, both of which are negative attributes. And while it is true that introverts tend to spend more time alone and don’t crave high-stimulation situations, they are not necessarily shy or aloof.

I, for one, can be very loud when I want to be, and I will speak up when I have something important to say. I simply choose not to participate in every discussion that arises, and I am content with listening and letting others contribute their ideas.

At the same time, I can vouch that introverts still do enjoy engaging with other people and attending social functions.

It’s just that extroverts crave human interaction and recharge by socializing, whereas introverts may feel uncomfortable mingling with a large group of people for an extended period of time.

Society, particularly in the West, also perpetuates the idea that introverts are not good leaders. Americans traditionally value freedom of speech and self-expression, and so it makes sense that the population is attracted to louder, more dominant individuals who are content with being under the spotlight.

President Donald Trump, a clear extrovert, captured the nation’s attention through his prolific tweeting and often raucous behavior.

The country believed that his outgoing manner and direct, unapologetic approach towards politics would affect change, and he was consequently elected the commander-in-chief in November 2016.

Americans gravitate toward extroverts not only in politics, but also in the business world.

In a Harvard Business Review survey conducted in 2006, 65% of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to success in a leadership position.

Popular culture is similarly dominated by extroverts; celebrities tend to be more outgoing, drawing more attention to themselves and receiving more views or likes in social media than a private person might.

While introverts are not the most vocal, they still lead through example and have interesting and sometimes ground-breaking ideas to share. Some of the most well-known, influential leaders are introverts: Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling.

Currently, society defines leaders based on how loud they are or how much they speak. However, leaders should be judged primarily based on the content of their words. It is not only the length of a speech, but the message embedded within that commands respect from others.

Extroversion is also favored over introversion within the classroom. My teachers have encouraged me to be more vocal in the comment section of almost every report card I have ever received.

I am constantly reminded that participation counts and that contributing to discussions is necessary to thrive in an academic environment.

On the rare occasion that I do participate, I plan out and rehearse the precise wording of my answer before raising my hand. Even then, I still get self-conscious and anxious; oftentimes, participating feels more like exposing my innermost thoughts to the class than sharing.

Although contributing in discussions is not characteristic of introverts, the community nevertheless encourages them to share and values those willing to take risks and speak in the spotlight over those who take time to meticulously curate answers.

Society puts an immense amount of pressure on introverts. Popularity in school is defined by how social students are, and often quick-wittedness and intelligence are based on participation.

Introverts are overshadowed and misunderstood by their extroverted classmates, and there are already fewer of us than our extroverted counterparts.

Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not antisocial or shy, nor are we bad leaders. And while we don’t raise our hands as often, we still have ideas to contribute.

It is time that the community recognizes the contributions of introverts to society and readjusts its core values to include us. All we ask for in exchange is a little more quiet.

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