I’m not trying to insult extroverts here. The reason I’m writing this post is because it seems that all we do sometimes is to talk about introversion as if it’s a problem to be overcome. “How to…. if you’re an introvert.” “How introverts can manage….” Although we introverts often don’t think about it this way, introverts have some truly valuable qualities which are part of our natural personalities. Today I want to highlight one of those qualities using two examples of real people whose situations I know very well. I’ll bet you know people like these too.
Joe is a super nice guy. Any time his name is mentioned, someone blurts out what a great guy he is! He’s always offering to help friends and neighbors, and his door is always open. Joe never gets enough of being around his buddies, and he’s also happy to stop and talk to anyone and everyone. There came a time when Joe’s sister needed his help, and he assured her he’d help her the next weekened. The sister, being a reliable person who never made a promise unless she meant to fulfill it, thought that was wonderful! What a super great guy Joe was! Well, Saturday came and one of Joe’s friends called with a huge project he was getting into. Could Joe lend a hand? Sure! Joe spent the whole weekend helping his friend. The next weekend the same thing happened. Finally his sister turned to other people for help, and the next time he saw her Joe asked her, “Why did you do that?! I told you I’d be happy to help you!” Was Joe having a case of early dementia? Or was he just totally unreliable?
Jenny has always been a really sweet woman. She’ll do anything for anyone, and if someone drops by when she really needs to be working, she still entertains them with a smile, although she knows she’ll be working late into the night after they leave. She has a large circle of friends going all the way back to childhood, and she makes lots of commitments to help them as well as to serve the church she attends regularly. Jenny’s elderly parents are really sweet too, and she loves them dearly. When she goes to visit them, she has a wonderful time talking to them, telling them all about her job and her life. The funny thing is, when their health got bad, she didn’t notice. She’d even mention, “Oh I wish I could come next week, but I signed up to head up a committee at church..” or “I’ve been meaning to visit, but I told Chelsea I’d help her shop for an interview suit today.” It would never occur to her to disappoint her friends or other church members. Did she have no real feelings at all? Why was she just trying to please strangers all the time instead of her own family?
At the time these things happened, I tended to judge both Joe and Jenny very harshly inside my own head. I wondered, but never asked aloud, if both of these people just trying to “win a popularity contest!” Did they really only care about having other people say how great they were, and to hell with their own family and loved ones?
No, actually they are both really loving people who mean well and think they are taking care of everyone! You see, Joe and Jenny are extroverts. They’re both extremely nice people, and it just happens that their attention is directed at the external world. Friends and others have the same access to them that family members do, and they truly think they are doing the right thing when they say yes to the world.
As an introvert, my focus is much narrower. I have some great friends, but I never make a commitment to outside activities that would keep me from being available to an aging relative or my own children. I do notice, with great sadness, when a family member starts to decline. When one of my parents or children got sick, I have always continued to put in a normal work day unless the situation was severe, but I definitely considered social time with friends or coworkers to be unnecessary distractions until the situation was resolved. In short, I put family first no matter what, and I know a lot of introverts do.
We may not be the fun person who works the room at parties, and we may try our best to get out of going to weddings or Uncle Dave’s 60th birthday party, but when someone close to us really needs us, we introverts are often the dependable person who cares deeply and will be there. Some of us feel very dutiful, while others are full of overwhelming feelings of wanting to take care of our families. Either way, we’re right where we are needed.
I know there are plenty of extroverts who are caring for loved ones in all sorts of situations right now, but once again, this post was intended to highlight a wonderful quality that comes as part of the package with most introverts. If you have an introvert in your family, maybe this will help you to look at him in a different, appreciative light. Sure he may be grumpy when it’s time to go out or have friends in, but if you ever really need him, I’ll bet he won’t leave your side for a minute until the storm passes.
Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt