When a little girl, about nine years old, went off to summer camp for the first time, her mother packed her a suitcase full of books. To her, it seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do because in her family, reading was the normal group activity. When this little girl arrived at her summer camp, she realized that it was more of a party than she had expected. Thus, the little girl closed her suitcase for the rest of the camp session and forced herself to be more gregarious, something that she was not.
This little girl was Susan Cain, and she recounted this episode in a TED talk about introverts. She is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which is our all-school read. In her book, she writes about how dramatically we undervalue introverts and what we lose in doing so.
Discrimination and inequality having to do with race, gender, sexuality, etc, but we never talk about how our society only rewards those who thrive off of social stimulation (extroverts), even if they are undeserving. Susan Cain’s summer camp story (the author of our all-school read) discusses this as well, but because there are also a countless number of times when introverts’ quiet style of being is not necessarily what is socially preferred, they are forced to pass as extroverts, something that they are not.
But first of all, to completely understand this discrimination, we have to understand what introversion is. Being an introvert is different from being shy. Shyness is the fear of social judgment. Introversion is response to social stimulation. Introverts feel most alive and capable when they are by themselves whereas extroverts crave this social stimulation. But that does not necessarily constitute the idea that only extroverts have something to offer. It just means that they are listened to more often, and that is where the discrimination comes in.
We can see evidence of this discrimination in our everyday lives, especially at Groton. As a tour guide, the school wants us to point out that many of our classrooms use the Harkness method, where the students participate in open discussions. That means the school is proud of the fact that students are forced to open up and express their ideas, but is that really something to be proud of, when it means that some students are being discriminated against in this process? Some teachers actually award points each time a student says something in class, giving an unfair advantage to those who crave the attention of their peers. Our school is designed for extroverts, rewarding them for sharing their ideas, and ignoring the introverts who come up with better ideas alone.
And it’s not just in the classroom. Especially in Lower School, we are given very little freedom as to what we can do with our time. From the moment we wake up, almost every minute is planned out for us, and those minutes are full of social stimulation. Breakfast, where we most likely are being social. A full day of classes, where we are forced to participate in group activities. Sports, a socially stimulating activity. Dinner, where we are probably socially interacting. Then we finally get to study hall where we have some time to ourselves, but right after, we go to check-in, another socially stimulating activity. I certainly don’t think that being social is bad, it’s just that there’s no balance. There’s almost no time for introverts to be by themselves, especially in lower school where there aren’t even full walls. Groton is full of inequality for the introverts.
I’m not saying extroversion is bad and that we should all become introverts. Of course it’s good if people express their ideas during class because they might be really good ideas, but that’s just extroverts being themselves. They shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded for being themselves and those who choose to work alone should not be viewed as outliers. Instead, we should learn to appreciate the yin and yang of introverts and extroverts. These are two different kinds of people, and both kinds are valuable in their own way. There needs to be some sort of balance between the two. Introverts are forced to be extroverts during class discussions, why not allow students more time to themselves and have extroverts be introverts sometimes? Yes, we do need our extroverts who thrive during group discussions, but we also need our introverts who, when alone, come up with invaluable ideas.
Some of the most important people in the world were introverts – Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi. And some of the most important people in the world were extroverts – Marie Antoinette, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs. Both kinds of people are so valuable in their own way, why not make Groton a place where both can thrive? We always use the term introverts vs. extroverts, which sounds like these two opposite forces battling one another. I think it’s time we start saying introverts and extroverts.