Someone Unlike You

In my recent post, I recommended reading Laney’s The Introvert Advantage. The book offers advice and support to the “temperamental minority” of introverts, who make up roughly a quarter of the general population. It emphasizes that the western culture puts introverts at a disadvantage because it’s the extrovert traits that are promoted and encouraged everywhere. It brings to light the prejudice and misunderstanding that surrounds introversy, the shaming and rejection of introvert traits by the extroverted majority.

It’s all true enough but it got me thinking about the other prejudice that you can see some introverts hold: that directed against the extroverted majority. It’s barely noticeable among people – after all, it’s only held by a portion of a minority. But when an introvert talks to another introvert, you may hear critical remarks about extroverted people. “Why are they so loud? Why can’t they stop talking? Why don’t they think properly before doing something? And what’s with this habit of ‘thinking out loud’, why on earth can’t they think like normal people?”

And when the phrase “normal people” enters the stage, it’s usually a sign of some kind of prejudice. Don’t take me wrong: prejudice is just a thing that happens when we don’t know enough about the Other to empathize with them. It’s about a lack of understanding, and it’s about taking the shortest path to classifying the Other somehow. The introverts who don’t understand, criticize, or even reject extrovert traits (I’ve never met with shaming in this context), do this because they never put any effort into trying to understand introvert behaviour, or they did but found it too hard.

Photo of snow flakes by Aaron Burder
Photo by Aaron Burder

And it’s fine! We are different, and differences are sometimes really hard to get one’s head around. I wouldn’t blame another introvert for failing to acknowledge the benefits of thinking out loud – damnit, I can’t grasp this concept myself. But I wouldn’t blame a more extroverted person for thinking it weird to “keep so quiet all the time,” either. Everyone has their limitations when it comes to understanding otherness, and having a prejudice in the first place doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We hold prejudices because they’re helpful in going about our lives without stopping and thinking about everything that surprises us about other people. In a way, prejudices help us make sense of the human world.

Most of the time they are wrong, though, because we came by them in ways that were too easy: we inherited them from our parents; we took them over from friends who travel abroad more often; we heard them on the radio from a guy whose voice always seemed trustworthy to us; or we formed them ourselves from what little experience we had with a particular group of people. Still, it’s not a crime to have prejudices. It’s just such a shame not to examine them when presented with contrary information, and to hold on to them when confronted with people as they are – in all their beautiful variety.

Because when you stand by your prejudices like they’re some holy text, you shut your mind off from innumerable possibilities to understand more of the world. And you also get really, really, really difficult to listen to.

I have more prejudices than just the prejudice against extroverted people, and I think I’m more or less aware of each. I could write pages and pages about them, but it’s not the point. The point is that life gives us opportunities to learn new facts, think and re-think whatever prejudices we hold, and change our minds if we decide to do so. For example, by reading The Introvert Advantage, I learned something about differences in human temperament, and started to shift from the kind of outlook on extroversy where “extroverts just sort of do stupid things for no reason” to one where… everybody’s different, and that’s fine.

I encourage you to use your opportunities. So go out and talk to someone, or stay in and watch a documentary, or read a book about somone unlike you. It’s worthwhile. I promise.


Always Safe to Complain… Or Is It?

People of my nationality are known for complaining at all times and about everything, but even though I would say this stereotype is quite justified, this post is not going to be about Polish people.

It’s going to be about what some might think they do when they complain, and about what I recently started to think that we actually do when we complain.

Because we all complain, right? We never stop whining about our stupid bosses, poor health, lazy partners, bad roads, ugly weather — you just name it.

Some of us might think that when we complain…

  • we help ourselves feel better

Because we’ve let the frustration out of our systems, unloaded it unto somebody else. And with no harm to that somebody, because seriously, how many people actually care enough to feel sorry for us?

  • we bond

Because complaining about the same things together brings us closer, and makes us like each other more, doesn’t it? We deal with the same shit, and that surely means something.

But what I recently started to think about complaining runs against these two interpretations. First of all, I noticed that sometimes, I complain about things that don’t bother me much, or even about such that I’m satisfied with.

For example, my studies: yes, they’re time-consuming, yes, they’re far from easy, but am I really dissatisfied with the way they are? I chose the translation faculty because it seemed challenging, and I’m happy about the fact it really is.

Still, I complain about it. When my co-students gather in the corridor to complain about the amount of homework, or whatever, I join in or nod in agreement. Because it’s a safe and easy thing to do, and why would I want to diverge from others?

It’s safe, it’s easy, but there’s always an end to this sense of convenience. There always comes a moment when I realize I have been complaining about a thing I’m in fact completely fine with, or in other words… that I’ve been pretending. And that’s a really inconvenient thing to realize.

Because then, you start to wonder: how many of the things I do have I really chosen to do? How many are just a result of the inert desire to blend in with others and not cause any “problems”?

I think that now I know why it is that sometimes complaining, instead of helping with stress, and helping to bond, is so dead tiring.