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.

Yoga, Magical Bread and One Surprising Fact About Women

WARNING: This post is a silly one.

A couple of nights ago I dreamt that I was a somewhat different person, someone who travelled and tried to make the world a better place (a bit like Doctor Who, which is actually true of me because I sometimes do travel, and I sometimes do make things better).

Dreams rarely make sense, and this one was no exception: I dreamt I met an old guy — let me (please let me!) call him Ancient Wizard from this point on — and he told me to “keep up the yoga” because it will somehow help foster the progress of medicine in Africa.

Where’s the connection? Nowhere to be seen in my waking hours, but believe me, in the dream it made a lot of sense.

The Ancient Wizard’s words also echoed of this old, resonant, long-since-memorized quote from Lord of the Flies, where Ralph and Piggy talk about the importance of keeping up the fire, so I thought: “Yeah, you’re right. And it’s actually awesome what you’re saying.”

Anyhow, the morning after, although it was antarctically cold in my room, I got up to practice yoga – which I hadn’t been doing for weeks because I was too lazy to get up any earlier than necessary.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this with you but it’s probably because having slept till noon, I missed breakfast, and the Easter Bunny is taking revenge on me by making me write silly stuff.

In my family, we follow the tradition of having white borscht with eggs, sausage and bread for Easter breakfast. The last three ingredients must be blessed in church beforehand, and I learned that it’s important as hell to eat the pieces that have been to church (rather than any other you can find in the kitchen) when my father once insisted:

“Don’t take these. These weren’t blessed.”

Although the piece of bread I wanted to take was the same as any other, blessed or not, I gave up and took the Magical Easter Bread. Cos it has to be magical if people insist it’s better, right?

I’m still not sure about it. If it’s magical, what does it do to you? Perhaps I should’ve got up earlier today, eaten the breakfast and it would’ve made me more productive?

Cos I was planning to write a story, think of a good topic for my master’s thesis, and learn some Russian during the Easter break, and so far none of these have happened. So far, I have half of a silly post written.

I hope the Easter Bunny won’t prevent me from explaining what the “surprising fact about women” promised in the title is, though. It’s not a kind of fact that ever needed discovering, and it has been around for some time.

And actually, it’s anything but surprising, but I felt the need to write about it anyway. And who would’ve clicked on the title if it didn’t promise anything surprising?

This totally unsurprising fact is that women are human and you can communicate with them even if you’re not female yourself.

Because they aren’t from Venus, or any planet other than Earth. And they don’t come from that planet to please, enchant, or use you. They are beings who live the same human life that you live, not machines that you operate in order to get fulfilled.

I feel the need to write about this because I’ve seen and heard too much advice on “how to approach a woman” on the internet and in conversations.
Take her out to some elegant place. What if she doesn’t fancy such places?
Remember about her birthday. For women, it’s really important. What if she doesn’t remember about it herself, and doesn’t care?
Kiss her on the neck. Every woman’s neck is a sensitive spot, and they love being kissed there. What if a kiss on the neck leaves her indifferent, and she’d rather do something else with you?

I could go on, and on, and on, but who cares? Who would care to follow such advice if they appreciated the simple unsurprising fact I just mentioned?

Because from this fact it follows that every woman may react differently to things. It depends on a million personal differences which one can never fully learn.

I happen to be female myself, but if you asked me “what all women want”, I’d be at a loss. I have female friends and relatives who sometimes tell me about their dreams, desires, life objectives, whatever — but they’re all so different, and some of them are not even within my scope of understanding.

Because it’s not like any woman can relate to another just on the basis of her femaleness.
All women want a lifelong relationship? Nope.
All women like to be called pretty? Not true either.
All women love shopping? I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t.

In fact, it all applies to people of any gender rather than just female. I just wanted to attract more readers by putting this controversial word in the title. Wink-wink.

Have a wonderful Easter,
Mulan