Do or Think?
The Introvert/Extrovert Dilemma
When I look back at my own psychological MO, I would also have to say that I played at being sociable throughout most of my adulthood. My more dominant side was drawn to ideas, the inner life, books, and—as a writer—observations.
Yet I chose a profession, teaching, where I had to be constantly on point—talking, explaining, analyzing, synthesizing, even negotiating. I was also very vocal at faculty senate meetings and even ended up being the teacher’s union president. So much for a shy, retiring, sensitive introvert I prided myself on being.
I continue to battle the introvert/extrovert sides of my personality.
There are times when I isolate in my apartment. There other times when I am buoyed up by being in the middle of a crowd, walking through a public park, sitting on a lawn chair at an open concert, or in the dining room at a family get-together.
Introversion, From Self-Reflection to Escapism and Rigidity
Introversion, for me, is a way of figuratively reaching down into the recesses of my psyche, of sitting in the silences, of quietly absorbing the details and characters of a novel. Or of laying in bed in the morning as I work out an idea, an incomplete thought, a phrase, or an insight I left hanging the day before. (My morning-bed routine is a habit I’ve gotten into over the years since I’ve been retired.)
Or when I’m sitting in front of a computer weaving sentences together, trying to find an appropriate image, getting the rhythm of a sentence, shaping a phrase.
Introversion, however, can take me into the dark recesses of an old resentment, or a freshly-brewed one. In the inner corners of my mind, I discover that reality can become freeze-dried into snap-shots of an incident, a person, an event—a mother always screaming; a father’s eyes glazed into space during a conflict; a brother’s rage; a pontifical AAer; somebody who always wants to take charge or fix a problem.
Sometimes my introversion can be a defense against what I perceive as an onslaught of too much frenzied energy. I tend to seek a silent quadrant from those who are always in a rush, using their legs, arms, and hips to invade every pocket of space in a room or a house. In my pre-isolation periods, I often feel that I need a sabbatical from impulsive talkers, in-your-face debaters, or high-decibel level arguers quoting some obscure phantom fact. (And phantom-fact gatherers, as a rule, seem to be obsessed with conspiracy theories.)
On the other hand, isolating can turn me so inward that I lose touch with my social and listening skills, or my ability to compromise. If I’m listening exclusively to myself, I can wander around the same idea for a long time until I’m convinced that no other facts or ideas can trump the ones I’ve gathered for a Blog Post, an article, or a Tweet
Even though Tweets seem to be more spontaneous, they often have a hard edge of finality, a kind of “case-closed” tone. They may speak to a communally shared reaction, like #Ferguson, #Impeachment, or #Obamacare, but they are instantaneous, if not impulsive, and tend to search out the like-minded.
In that sense, Tweets are closer to groups of commonly-held beliefs or observations that, in the words of a friend of mine, will “brook no fools.” The 140-character limitation doesn’t leave much room for either explanation, patience, or thoughtfulness.
Rigidity, in the end, can be one of the collateral damages of too much self-reflection. And inflexibility can result from too much of the quick, machine-like sharings on the Internet where people seem to have already made up their minds or fall prey to impulsiveness. The internet certainly has a public, communal side to it, but it also contains a sea of discontented, angry, venom-spewing, and very isolated individuals boxed away in their private worlds and contemptuous of the rest of humanity.
Interiority, or even holding on to a belief, can be very life-sustaining.
The Need For a Community, But With a Caveat
But experiencing many communities can broaden my perspectives, give me balance, and, most of all, open my way of thinking and feeling.
My thirty years in an urban Alcoholics Anonymous environment has resulted in some life-changing friendships with those of different cultures, education, socio-economic classes, ethnicities, religions, and races. And my many years of teaching African-American Literature and Culture continues to radicalize my notions of literature, history, religion. I continue to have a personal and academic interest in Chinese film, modern history, and culture.
Community-think, however, can also pull me away from my own authenticity. There is a world out there that seems to be totally antithetical to any kind of emotional or psychological growth.
Ads, for example, tell me constantly that I need to purchase a new car, that I have to buy a house, that I need to buy a new suit, that I can use my credit card for any on-line course I need for my degree. Not, by the way, that any of these things would necessarily make me a better person.
If I really listened to my mind, I would realize that ads don’t appeal to a need; they appeal to desire. After watching a TV ad in between the Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert shows, it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I don’t need that sleek, black BMW at $350 a month.
Some are very good with an outward, more physical response. They like to get things done. They prefer a finished product rather than go through the drudgery of self-analysis or reflection. They definitely prefer doing rather than thinking.
And some love being part of a community, a family, a church, an organization.
Others would rather be by themselves. Or they prefer more introverted, solitary venues—philosophy, literature, art, private hobbies, and now, for some, the internet. And introverts would often prefer to think about a solution before venturing into one.
To many introverts, action without thought can be like driving an eight cylinder car on a quarter tank of gas. You can do the high-energy, sprint tasks. But the complex jobs require painstaking diligence. And psychological growth, especially, is not for the drive-thru crowd.
Granted, none of these thinking/doing, isolation/community categories are mutually exclusive. And, hopefully, we can have a balance between both of them in our own lives
Maybe it all comes down to a simple adage: “Think when necessary. Do what’s best.”