When it comes to the introvert/extrovert battle royale, my response is always the same. A shrug. A little bit of interest, because people are cool (and how they work is even cooler). And, when the conversation inevitably gets personal, my auto-response: “Introvert or extrovert? I dun’no. I’m just a ‘Vert’.”
(This counts as “clever” because my last name is actually Vert. For anyone else living on the edge of the intro-extro battle…sorry. I have no advice.)
I did try to figure out whether I was an introvert or an extrovert. I could relate to both. My parents argued that I was an introvert, albeit a chatty one. When I mentioned this to my friend Michelle, she shook her head. “Shauna, I’m sorry, but you’re an extrovert.”
Like I was getting a diagnosis. Like it was going to change our lives—each of us, carrying a red letter E or I, doomed to an existence of either solitude or social committees. Books or birthday parties. And we sure as hell aren’t going to understand each other while we do it. You’re born into a category, and you stay there.
The success of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has pushed the often hostile hyper-categorization of introverts and extroverts into the mainstream. Nearly every time I visit Facebook, there is a viral post offering to decipher the intro-extro code for me. Sometimes they’re funny, but ultimately I’m left sitting here like “Gee, I like my alone time but I also like people. I can be motivated by either. I can crawl into a corner and cry from being overwhelmed by either.”
So I’m just a Vert (or an “amnivert,” according to modern psychology). Other personality extremes apply to me, but not that one. Which wouldn’t bother me, really, if that one weren’t so sexy these days.
These two extremes were originally a simple measure of whether one’s energy came from outside or from inside. Carl Jung came up with the whole thing, so it’s an old enough concept. As it exists today, introversion and extroversion are most popularly illustrated through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (drool away, Human Resources). The MBTI is a personality test which gives you a four-letter “Type” based on four different factors. The first of those factors? I or E. Introverted or Extroverted.
The MBTI actually places individuals on a 200-unit continuum. Based on the continuum, most people are little-e extrovert, or a little-i introvert….either way, they have these (and other) traits to varying degrees. It looks something like this:
Extravert [100% – – – 0% – – – 100%] Introvert
Alas, even if your results peg you as 51% extroverted, statistics that come from Myers-Briggs will count you as an E. No “it depends on my mood.” No “I guess sometimes?” Wiggle room need not apply.
When Jung originally came up with Introversion and Extroversion, he didn’t mean for it to be a one-size-fits-all typecast. He meant for the two to act as extremes. The population would be on a bell curve, with most people hanging out somewhere in the middle. According to the original theory, “people who are “introverts,” who introvert significantly more than they extrovert, make up only about 2% of the population (and likewise for extroversion).” Most people, of course, are going to be more one than the other.
But not everyone. And not in the same way, either. Then there’s the really-freaking-cool neuroscience behind the whole thing, which is kind of important…and very underdeveloped at this point.
The intro/extro label covers a lot of territory, and while it’s helpful for many people, the reality is that (omg.) different people are different. And if we’re talking about the trials and tribulations of certain personality “types” in society, we should also note three things:
- Personality traits almost always exist on a continuum.
- Personality science is not very well developed at this point.
- Certain types of people are more favoured for success in this world. I’m not saying that’s always right. I’m just saying that if you’re talking about discrimination based on personality type, you need to broaden your argument.
Introversion, in it’s purest form, is an extreme. In it’s typical form, it’s a trait (with a whole lotta variations) that society doesn’t always value. But if we open our eyes a little, we see that society also isn’t so hot with overactive imaginations, scattered people, those who are not language inclined, non-linear thinkers. We do a great disservice to many little boys in “sit all day and read fiction”-style classrooms. We suck for tactile learners, for a multitude of alternate abilities, for people who question authority. I personally had a helluva time in Grade 5 because I was “too slow” and “not understanding details”—so there go your big picture thinkers and your perfectionists. And, it must be said, we really suck for tapping into the knowledge, talents and needs of our senior and our immigrant populations, regardless of what vert-ing they do.
A personality dichotomy (like introversion and extroversion) can describe some people perfectly–but not everyone, not by a long shot. Not being a full-out introvert doesn’t mean that I am immediately an extrovert. I like understanding people better, and if these categories help with that, then great. I don’t like having to identify as one or the other at every turn.
Right now, I feel like I do.
(But maybe that’s just the hard-knock life of an ‘Vert. I should make a buzzfeed list.)