“Why are you so quiet?”
I’ve been asked that question more times than I could possibly count. It’s a disconcerting question to be asked. You might as well ask me why the sky is blue, why some mammals live in the ocean, or why Pluto is no longer a planet. Those questions have answers, I’m sure, but they’re not questions I can answer on the fly—just like I can’t answer the question, “Why are you so quiet” when someone insists on asking me this.
And what would be the acceptable answer to this question, anyway? Perhaps, “I don’t like people very much.” Or maybe, “I have a really small vocabulary.” Or, “I’m not very bright so I can’t think of anything to say.”
While those would be funny responses, they aren’t true and they’d likely be met with an open-mouthed stare or the person running the other way. The short answer is: “Because I’m an introvert.”
While there are hundreds of articles out there about introversion, it remains one of the most misunderstood personality traits, even though introverts make up about thirty to fifty percent of the population, according to some studies. No, introverts are not anti-social. No, we don’t hate people. No, we’re not necessarily shy. No, we are not shrinking violets that you can walk all over. But yes, we are quiet by nature.
Why? The reason is really very simple. Introverts get their energy from focusing inside by being quiet, low-key, and yes, sometimes alone. Extraverts* get their energy from outside by interacting with other people. It’s a very basic difference, and not something intended to discomfort, confuse or anger people. But it seems to do any (or sometimes all) of these.
I listen. I process. I ponder. In short, I don’t speak unless I have something to contribute. If I have nothing to add, I am quiet. If I am overwhelmed, I am quiet. If I am wrestling with a problem, I am quiet. I don’t process by talking about something. I process by going inward. Thinking, writing, reading. This is just the way I am. This is the way I’ve always been.
And so I am misunderstood. Over the last fifty-some years I have realized that silence makes people uncomfortable. I have had people ask me if I am silently judging them. I have had people accuse me of thinking I’m better than they are and that’s why I don’t deign to speak to them. I have had people assume that I am arrogant. I have had people poke or prod me to try and get a response. I have been teased and bullied. All because I am quiet. And none of this has changed my introversion. Changing your basic personality is…well, pretty much impossible.
My question is – do I need to be loud to be acceptable? Do I need to voice my every thought? Why can’t we just appreciate and accept people as they are? Must we all be the same for everyone to be comfortable? That sounds very boring and homogeneous.
I have come to realize that people’s discomfort with my quiet nature is more about them and much less about me. What their underlying issues are I have no idea, but what I do know is that their discomfort is not my burden to carry. It’s theirs.
And so I have come to embrace and appreciate my own nature. Introverts have gifts to offer the world. Do you want someone who will listen—really listen—to you? Do you want a great problem-solver? Do you want someone who will consider all the angles and then offer some creative solutions? Do you want someone who will bring a sense of calm to any gathering? Do you want a keen observer? Find yourself an introvert, because these are the gifts of an introvert.
And the next time you feel compelled to ask someone “Why are you so quiet,” please…don’t.
*Try as I might, as the holder of a BA degree in English, a grammar and spelling geek, and a life-long writer, I cannot misspell “extravert.” The correct, original spelling is extravert, from the Latin “Extra,” meaning outside. “Intro” means inside. Thus, IntrOvert=inside, ExtrAvert=outside, which speaks to the natures of these two personality types. Why people started spelling it extrovert I will never understand. Then again, there are a lot of things about the world that I don’t understand.