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Monday, June 21, 2021

The reign of introverts

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Ordinarily, extroverts own society and introverts tiptoe around it. But coronavirus and the attendant lockdown has flipped the order upside down. Introverts now reign supreme. Though they want their reign to be short-lived —what a paradox! — they can at least lounge around with a smirk while it lasts.

The chemistry between the two personality types is not predictable. “If introverts and extroverts are the north and south of temperaments—opposite ends of a single spectrum—then how can they possibly get along,” author Susan Cain asks in her book Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

“Yet the two types are often drawn to each other—in friendship, business, and especially romance,” Cain states in answering her own question. “These pairs can enjoy great excitement and mutual admiration, a sense that each completes the other.”

But that blissful complementarity is by no means guaranteed. Cain says as much by quoting Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer analytical psychologist. “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed,” Jung has written.

When there is no reaction, the two personalities will either co-exist in unease or go their separate ways. But when there is a reaction and the reaction leads to a relationship, the transformation is more likely to favour the extrovert. That is, extroverts are more likely to pull the relationship in the direction of extroversion — if there is to be a measure of harmony.

For example, extroverts are wont to prod their introverted companions to social occasions that the latter would rather not go to. While there, the introvert would soon have a fill of the banter and withdraw to a corner. It is common to see him or her fidgeting with a glass of drink or something. Meanwhile, the extroverted companion would be “mixing” all over the venue for hours on end.

While the introvert can’t wait to get back home, the extrovert seeks every means to extend the occasion. Sometimes, that means carrying on with the banter outside the venue, on the street, at the parking lot, wherever.

With the coronavirus lockdown, the relational leverage has shifted. Where extroverts generally dictated the terms of the relationship before, now introverts are in charge. Introverts are now at home—literally and figuratively. Extroverts are in an unfamiliar territory— the introvert’s world.

Introverts are used to being alone without feeling lonely. Extroverts feel lonely even when they are in the company of family.

This is not a swipe at extroverts, those socially delightful people. It is just a way of making a broader point: that every personality type has its place in society. Moreover, circumstances or changing times makes a given personality a greater asset.

There’s a sense—a thin sense— that this is comparable to fashion. If you keep today’s trendy attire or hairstyle long enough, it will become fashionable again. When thigh-length men’s suits became trendy in the 1990s, I delightfully—and repeatedly—whipped out my father’s photo from the 1950s to show how exact it was in the style. Women can readily find scores of similar examples in their fashion trends.

Personality types are somewhat similar in trendiness. Unlike fashion, they don’t change by the season or designers’ creative whims. Rather, their cachet changes as society transforms. And that’s what is happening to introverts.

Introversion was not generally considered a desirable trait. Now, it is a necessity. Extroverts who cannot adapt to it are having the hardest of times and introverts are the ones showing the way. They are showing that life at home—without the socials, ceremonies and even religious assemblies—can actually be fulfilling, if only one explores the opportunities it offers.

There are books to read, a wealth of knowledge to soak up from the Web, thoughts to jot down, in-home activities with family members—especially the children, recipes to explore, hobbies to start, crafts to explore, and, above all, time to reflect. These are things that characterise the introverts’ life. Now extroverts have had to do them — at least more of them — or be miserable.

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