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Introverts on the Sidelines

West Virginia is a little state with a big chip on its shoulder. I know, I’m a proud Mountaineer. We are likely to strike out in anger for many possibly slights, one being those delightful occasions when people express ignorance of our very existence. No, we are not part of Virginia. There was this little war between the states. You might have heard of it. Does the Civil War ring a bell? No, I don’t live near Richmond. That’s another state. In fact, we just celebrated 150 years of being our very own state.

We get mad and hurt and complain, “Why can’t they get it right? How can people be so stupid as to not know about us?” But there’s another possible take on these infuriating occurrences.

“Why don’t we make ourselves known better, so people don’t mistake and overlook us?”

It’s easy to grumble about not being known. It’s harder to make an effort, to do some action that lets people know you are there and have something to contribute.

But complaining about not being known, growing bitter and resentful, sensitive and withdrawn, is much easier. This is something introverts frequently do.

We complain, often without making any effort to be known.

“They don’t get me,”

“Nobody understands me.”

I know, because I’m not just the writer of this post criticizing/challenging introverts, I am one.

Well, maybe nobody knows us because we are not knowable. We are not friendly. We are not open.

I spent most of my early life terrified and quiet, reluctant to speak up, afraid to be friendly. I called this “being shy.” It took everything in me to say hello to a room full of strangers. I felt like I was being sent to the guillotine. I could bore you with tales of terror and despair, but I want to get straight to what helped me.

Playing defense all the time, trying to avoid people, is a losing strategy. It’s what the sports world calls “playing NOT to lose.” (This, as opposed to “playing TO win.”) Not until I switched to offense did I see any real improvement. I had to intentionally be friendly. I had to do something very courageous, for me. It was embarrassing, because I could tell it wasn’t courageous for lots of people. It was easy to them. That made me envy them. But I’m finding that friendliness is a great pathway to understanding that those extroverts, those mighty people of the earth, also have weaknesses and fears, and that’s something you can’t find out by spending all day with your cats watching Star Trek and updating Facebook in clever ways that make you look like an interesting person, but really you’re just on the internet all day and also watching Star Trek.

I get the introvert’s challenges. I get that there are incredible strengths in there. But, speaking as one, introverts can be some of the most self-righteous people you will ever meet. We frequently have the additional disadvantage of being “artists,” and “brilliant,” and “smart” and “quirky,” and often expect everyone to bow in deference to our self-consumed, navel-gazing craziness.

Introverts often love to point out faults of extroverts, those people doing their friendly and open and positive things with other people and often in, gasp!, public (how crass and unsophisticated). Introverts love to snarkily sit on the sidelines and laugh at all the people in the game. We love to self-importantly preserve our undefeated record by never entering the ring.

There’s an awful lot about introverts to love, but there’s also a lot that’s less lovely. I’m all for loving introverts as they are. I am one. I’m happy to see the recent flux of positive messages, books, and blog posts about understanding and appreciating introverts. I’ve written some of them and I’m for it.

However, if all this positive affirmation for “being who I am”—that delightful and dangerous path—helps us feel superior as we disengage from community, friendship, spouse, family, and church, then we are believing a lie.

Introverts need community—real community with real, flesh and blood people. We need to be loved, accepted, challenged, and to find our place in the world. Star Trek and Facebook and cats may make us feel like we have something real, but they cannot replace flesh and blood people. Star Trek won’t let you down. It’s safe. Safe and not real. Facebook can provide us a thousand opportunities to feel better than other people and to shine up our pristine image—even an image of being broken, humble, complicated, interesting people. But spouses can’t be blocked, sisters are hard to unfriend. We can’t decline a funeral event with a click. Cats . . . well, let’s be honest and just admit that cats are evil.

Here’s the point, introverts. Maybe you’re angry because I said Star Trek wasn’t real or that Facebook is a minefield of pride and envy, or you’re steaming from having to face the awful truth that cats are of the devil. But hold on. Remember, I’m one of you . . . er, us. The world needs us. We don’t just need flesh and blood community, but flesh and blood community needs us. Seemingly-confident extroverts need us. Type A’s that type a’s on their keyboards with so much power and confidence need us. Muscular, tanned, salt-and-pepper haired businessmen in suits need the dog-hair-sweater-wearing bespectacled old maid who wears a Star Trek communicator because her cats have told her it looks rad. We all need each other. It takes all kinds, as the person quoting cliches once said.

I know it will take courage that you believe you are incapable of to take those baby steps toward being present. Remember that God is strong when you are weak. Remember that you are loved, accepted, welcomed by God in Christ. Remember that your brothers and sisters need you, so be brave.

Be present somewhere, introverts. You are needy, and needed. Just like everyone else.

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