Just finished reading John the Peregrine’s A Kingdom for the Introvert. It’s a rather personal book about being introverted. John describes the hardships of growing up an introvert in an extrovert society. Being a staunch introvert myself I figured I’d pick it up.
First, praise. I enjoyed it much more than I expected. Every day I looked forward to reading the book, and I find those kind of books harder and harder to come by as the years pass. You read one NY Times book, you read them all. The Peregrine on the other hand has his own recognizable, easily digestible style, true to his theme of being a societal outcast. His sentences speak to the mind, there is flow in his words. It comes across as genuine, which is something I find disturbingly lacking in every single book in my local bookshop.
Content wise it was a feast of recognition. John pours his heart out over the crushing dominance extroverts exert over introverts. He talks extroverts bullying, harassing, and just not understanding anything different to them (while, and this is still my pet peeve, loudly proclaiming the importance of EMPATHY and CARING). How can I not identify with that? Fucking extroverts. So much noise, just for the sake of noise. And yes, they indeed come down like a ton of bricks on introverts who dare disagree with society’s norms.
I don’t think I had it as rough as John, but I’ve had my share of bullying, of not fitting in, of close family members telling me over and over that something was definitely wrong with me. I empathize with that and I do think introverts have it rough.
But, the way I dealt with my position as an outcast differs from the path the Peregrine takes in the book and it is worth to explore that a bit.
The Peregrine’s path is essentially to break with extrovert society; they don’t understand you, they are too outwardly focused, so fuck em. Perhaps one day introverts may rule society instead of the extroverts, but until that day, disappear and don’t let them get you.
Personally I have found the exact opposite path most effective: I don’t disappear, I loudly signal my presence. Of course not by talking, but in my non-verbal communication. I take up space, I hold my chin up high, my clothes are bright, good-fitting and out of the ordinary. Even though I am a skinny ectomorph I work-out and display my muscles as if I were Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Ask my friends: I stick out. And consequently I fit in much better than I used to.
The most important lesson I learned as an introvert is this: don’t show weakness. Extroverts, hell, people in general, come down on weakness like a ton of bricks. They sniff out weakness, and introverts in public society all too often display body language revealing that they are uncomfortable, that they want to disappear, that they want to be ignored. They signal weakness. Displays of weakness arouse disgust. I’ll repeat that once again because it is such a crucial point for introverts: displays of weakness arouse disgust. It’s like seeing a cockroach.
So, I stopped showing weakness. In fact I do the exact opposite: I signal that I am a threat, that if you disturb me I will come at you, like those poisonous animals in the jungle with bright colors. Works like a charm.
The more I go looking for a fight, the less fights I get in.
The thing about introverts is that we have no right of existence just on the basis of being special snowflakes with rich inner worlds. This is Darwin’s world. If you want to survive, need to adapt. I identify with other introverts as much as I identify with whites; we cool and all, but I’m not into any activist group based around our identity. Sounds too leftist for my taste.
The trick is to make your introversion work for you. The Peregrine delves into this; use your focus to master a craft. Be useful. He is correct. I’d add that for me, cooperation with extroverts is a skill that has brought me much joy in life. I find that extroverts have good use for introverts: introverts are just better at thinking things over, especially when group dynamics are concerned. It’s a delicate balance of course; the introvert must not get overly cocky (the King In Your Own World syndrome) but also not show too much weakness. Though, just like with game, it is always better to err on the side of overly cocky than overly friendly.
I do not share the Peregrine’s bitterness towards extroverts or society in general, although I understand the sentiment.
I know a few extroverts who are very well attuned to different people around them. Generally, I think it is a good principle not to exclude people on a specific psychological trait but on their unwillingness to cooperate with you.
Anyway, I hope all that does not come off as being overly critical. I liked the book a lot, specifically because it talks about this subject in an open manner I rarely encounter, and it is a subject I have spent considerable time on. Would recommend.