Blessed are the meek?

I was looking through some photographs from my childhood with my girlfriend earlier today. One is of the day of my first holy communion. This religious rite of passage tends usually happens when a child is 7 or 8. But my mother, in her wisdom, decided that I would do it a couple of years early. As a result, I had my first holy communion with boys and girls from my school who were older than me and were not my friends. No big problem here, you might imagine. But I am actually a quite introverted person and a shy child, and I remember to this day that the experience was torture for me. All the memories came flooding back on seeing a group photo from the day where my face is a picture – signalling for all the world to see how much fun I wasn’t having.

I came across this very interesting article today published on-line in the Scientific American. It features the ideas of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. In the article, Susan makes the point that our society is set up to reward bold, extrovert individuals. As a result, introverts can sometimes feel the need to make themselves seem more extrovert than they are, and Susan claims that ‘… whenever you try to pass as something that you’re not, you lose part of yourself along the way.’

There’s much information in this article that really resonates with me. For example, I am the sort of person who much prefers a one-on-one dinner and the conversation that goes with it than a full-on party. It’s not so much that I don’t like groups, it’s more that I prefer more intimate environments. I also, like Susan and other introverts, really enjoy time on my own. For example, I can quite happily spend two or more days on my own writing without ever growing bored or lonely.

Another part of the interview I found really interesting concerned group-work. Here’s an extract from the piece:

When you’re working in a group, it’s hard to know what you truly think. We’re such social animals that we instinctively mimic others’ opinions, often without realizing we’re doing it. And when we do disagree consciously, we pay a psychic price. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

This would at least partly explain why I have a dislike of meetings. And the ones I go to rarely have more than two other people present.

It turns out that about one third to a half of us are introverts. And the article lists a few notable human introverts too, including Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Larry Page (co-founder and CEO of Google). Maybe it’s true that ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’.

18 Responses to Blessed are the meek?

  1. kateryna 24 January 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    As you, before I knew there was such a thing as extrovert or introvert, I was always feeling miserable and kept asking myself why I wasn’t normal and why I couldn’t be like others. I absolutely hated parties and liked one on one meetings, dinners, etc. Time spent alone was cherished. Only within the past few years have I discovered that I am a full, card-carrying introvert. I feel so relieved. There’s a book out there called “I’m not crazy, I’m just not you” that outlines the distinctions between personality types. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of the author, but just the title makes me feel better.

  2. Lori 25 January 2012 at 3:33 am #

    I was just thinking today about how much trouble I’ve seen women get into when they can’t stand to be alone and aren’t focused on anything (i.e., they bounce from one jerk to another). Being an extrovert isn’t necessarily such a good thing.

    Being an introvert among introverts (no significant other, kids, roommate, cell phone, Facebook page or TV reception), I’ve never understood the need for constant chatter and noise or why I should care what the cool kids are doing.

  3. Jean 25 January 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I don’t think I am a full blown introvert but I do know that I need time on my own, like you a couple of days is no problem, to recharge my batteries.
    You are so right about society rewarding the extroverts. We end up with an awful lot of legislation that ‘most people’ aren’t really interested in because of the few that make a noise!

  4. Dr John Briffa 25 January 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Hi Jean

    Thanks for your comments.

    You are so right about society rewarding the extroverts.

    To to fair, it’s Susan Cain who made this observation, though I wholeheartedly agree with her too.

  5. mezzo 25 January 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Actually it’s “rite of passage”…

  6. Dr John Briffa 25 January 2012 at 1:00 pm #


    Thanks. Yes, you’re rite 😉 Have corrected this now.

  7. dado 26 January 2012 at 12:58 am #

    It is a mistake to combine ‘meek’ and ‘introvert’. One can be an introvert but far from meek.

  8. FrankG 27 January 2012 at 1:07 am #

    I agree that meek is not a synonym of introvert but I think I understood your meaning 😉

    I also enjoy my own company and don’t really get all the fuss of “life” going on around me sometimes.

    While checking synonyms, I came across this quote attributed to Kin Hubbard “It’s going to be fun to watch and see how long the meek can keep the earth after they inherit it” LOL 🙂

  9. David 27 January 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Join the club – I too am an introvert and recently read a book called ‘The Introvert Advantage’
    One of the best books I have read, now I understand myself a lot better and thrive on being an introvert. When I tell people im a introvert, they often say ‘no your not’ – referring to it like its a disability/weakness, I then assure them that I am and I am very happy being a introvert. Good book for extroverts to read as well.

  10. David Brown 27 January 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    “And the article lists a few notable human introverts too, including Ganghi, Rosa Parks and Larry Page (co-founder and CEO of Google).”

    I think you spelled Gandhi’s name wrong.

  11. Dr John Briffa 27 January 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Thanks David Brown

    Fixed now.

  12. Agate Karevoll 27 January 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Hi, It strikes me that a major advntage is that you don’t have to agree with received wisdom. It makes you free to look again – what this website is about.

  13. Chris 27 January 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    In media reports following a senseless mass murder, the usual description of the suspected culprit is that “he is a loner.” Loner being a pejorative for introvert. But these reporters/amateur psychiatrists, get it completely wrong. The person isn’t a loner–he’s a misfit. Someone who wants to fit in but doesn’t. I doubt these types of crimes are rarely if ever committed by “loners”. Introverts or loners want to be left alone not fit in.

  14. Chris Grimley 28 January 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Is their a toggle switch for introvert-extrovert in the personality? For the stages of personality development? For the presence and degree of outside stimuli? Even if you were self-recognized as a flaming extrovert, the immersion of your six-year-old self in a gang of alien eight-year-olds could be terrifying, especially if there was a dominant bully operating.

    I really like the point that introversion does not mean meekness, or submissiveness.

    Also, I suspect that introversion/extroversion are terms used indiscriminately to blanket many attitudes and personality dynamics.

  15. julianne 28 January 2012 at 1:32 am #

    Yes that article resonated with me too.
    About 15 years ago I took the MBTI (Mayers Briggs typing) test. Coming out as an INTP (introvert, inuitive, thinker, perceiving) and then reading about how this type operated in the world was such a revelation at the time. To find “I am not alone” and I am normal for this type of personality felt like such a relief after years of feeling like there was something wrong with me, and I should be more like others.

  16. Carole McIntosh 28 January 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Heh I always thought I was an extrovert.

    As I grow older I like my own company, always hated meetings could see the answer at once why do they not get on with it, like a quiet day with a few friends etc

    I love thinkers and seek their company but I still like people who can make a decision

    Heh I have changed per haps I was hiding my introvertness under a bushell

  17. Heather 29 January 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    My husband and I are Introverted, we are the people who, when we can bring ourselves to/have to attend a party, sit in a corner and sneak out early. We live in rural Greece. My husband works long hours and I am alone most days, perfectly happy with my own company. I am often asked how I can stand it but I love the peacefulness.
    I worked in the Hospitality industry for 40 years and can do professional gregariousness but it was all an act.

  18. Lori 30 January 2012 at 2:50 am #

    @Chris, I agree. There’s a big difference between avoiding people because you need to think or rest or work and people avoiding you because you’re creepy.

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