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Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

I’m Not Shy, I’m Just An Introvert

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Jonathan Rauch wrote a short essay for The Atlantic in 2003 that generated more email than anything he’s ever written. It was titled, “Caring For Your Introvert” and explained what introversion is and how hard it is for an introvert to exist in a predominantly extroverted world.

I can relate.

I have always been an introvert, and unlike some people, I think I always knew that about myself. That might partly be because my only sibling is an extrovert and the contrast between us was just too hard to ignore. She and I must be something completely different and if she was an extrovert, which she undeniably is, then I must be the opposite.

Extroverts thrive on interaction with others, introverts can only abide it. That makes introverts sound stuck-up and anti-social, which they–and I–are often accused of. But it’s not that introverts dislike or consider themselves better than other people. It’s a matter of survival. And not only psychological survival, as in “she’s just driving me crazy,” but even physical survival. Introverts who are forced to act against their nature–in other words, like extroverts–can suffer actual physical conditions similar to those suffered by those undergoing extreme stress. Hence the frequent accusation that we’re also hypochondriacs or drama-queens.

My husband is also an introvert. This works out well for us, because we naturally give each other a lot of space–because we need it ourselves. We can spend all day in the same house and never speak to each other except when we pass each other on the way to the bathroom or when getting another cup of coffee. Our idea of a vacation is to have plenty of time to “debrief.” We wouldn’t mind going on vacation with each other–and no one else–because then we wouldn’t have to dance to an extrovert’s tune. Extroverts always want to be doing something. Introverts just want to be left alone.

Do we miss out on a lot of fun and excitement? Perhaps. But what good does it do to throw yourself around in a whirl of activities if it’s only going to make you sick? It’s not unlike having vertigo. We don’t feel dizzy exactly, but we do find it hard to find our equilibrium. That doesn’t mean that I never want to do anything; it only means that I have to have some measure of control over the situation. If I don’t, I am perfectly capable of going along for the ride, but don’t expect me to act like an extrovert. I may be able to, but as Rauch wrote in his essay, I’d feel like I was acting.

I never thought about it when I was having children, but I created the worst scenario for myself as an introvert: I had four children within six years, which guaranteed that for at least the first decade I could never even go to the bathroom alone. I was almost relieved when my children hit their teens and started to leave the house more, except that I worried more about them when they weren’t around, so it wasn’t much of a trade-off. Now that they’re all grown, I normally get the time that I need to be alone. It isn’t that I don’t like being around them. It’s just that, like when I’m at a party, I’d just rather sit back and soak up what’s going on around me.

And then, once they’ve gone home, take a nap.

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“Religulous”

In Culture, Opinion, Religion, Self Improvement on May 16, 2009 at 6:41 am

My husband and I watched Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” the other night. I had a pretty good idea what itwould be like: Maher drilling holes in the beliefs of religious people. I know his style from his stand-up comedy. You could say that he’s the epitome of irreligious. He’s also pretty darn irreverent. Some of his act is just that: an act. But I got the impression that he was serious when he argued with and at times ridiculed the people he was interviewing.

He was asked by a couple of people in the film: “What if you’re wrong (about not believing in God)?” One time he answered, “Well, that’s a pretty lame reason to believe in God.” (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t remember what was said word for word.) Another time he asked back: “What if you’re wrong?” I don’t think he thought that through. If a Christian is wrong, it’s not like he is going to have something bad happen to him. He’ll just die and that’s it. But if an unbeliever is wrong (about the afterlife), he’s going to be mighty unhappy about the outcome.

I agree with Maher that that’s not the most ideal reason to believe in God. That’s not true faith anyway; that’s just fear. I suppose that’s not the worst reason to believe in God: because you’re afraid of Him. But as a Christian, I don’t believe that’s what God intended. He wants us to do what we do out of gratitude and love. I’m not going to get preachy here. I have my own doubts. And in that I agree with Mayer: having doubts is a sign of maturity.

If we believe out of fear, or habit, or only because we were raised in a particular faith, our belief system will be weak. It’s only when we have thoroughly examined God, our church’s doctrine and our own beliefs that we can consider ourselves grown-up. Anything less is for babies. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be immature sometimes, especially when we’re first starting out. But hopefully, we will allow room in our souls for honest inquiry.

True Leadership

In Culture, Politics, Self Improvement on May 7, 2009 at 7:18 am

“A true leader does not take the public to where the public happens to be, because the public is already there. A leader takes the public to where the public should be, according to that leader’s view of the society’s highest ideals – ideals that the public shares but which have not yet been realized.”

So says Robert Reich in a post this morning on Salon.com.  This is one of the best definitions of a leader that I have ever read.

Only time will tell if this definition applies to Obama, but so far he seems to fit the criteria. There have been many examples, but one that strikes me the most is his stance on gay marriage. He hasn’t said overtly that he is for gay marriage, but he has been totally supportive of gay rights, and ultimately those rights include the right to marry. Since he’s been in office, several states have either changed their laws to allow gay marriage or are in the process of revisiting them. But before Obama became President, the states seemed to be influenced by the Religious Right and conservatives in general.

Even so, there has been a relaxing of this society’s antipathy toward homosexuality over the past decades. Witness shows like “Grace and Will”, movies like “Philadelphia” and the acceptance of Ellen Degeneres, an “open” lesbian, as a talk show host. And these are but a few examples. Acceptance has been slow but steady. It is only a matter of time before most of the states recognize the validity of gay marriages. But it has taken a true leader to give the public the encouragement it needed to follow its instincts.

You could argue that the public doesn’t know what it wants, but only follows the lead of those at the top. But that argument underestimates the public’s ability to rock the boat when its leaders set a firm course toward a destination it does not desire. Most people are not activists. They prefer to stay in the background and to preserve the status quo. It has been easier for the past eight years to follow the path set by Bush and his ilk, partly because he led by fear-mongering: fear of change, of challenging traditional values, of breaking with the past. However, that doesn’t mean that the majority actually believed the same way Bush did.

I believe that most people believe in their innermost beings that being tolerant is the most important characteristic to have if we are to solve our societal problems. They demonstrated their tolerance when they voted Obama into office. If you would have told me right after 9/11 that we would, a scant eight years later, elect a president whose middle name was Hussein, I would have said you were crazy. I never expected to see a black president in my lifetime. People were ready for change, not so much because they embrace it (most people don’t), but because Obama provided what they had been needing: a leader who will bring out the best in them.

For the past eight years we have been locked into a mentality that chafed us. We didn’t want to be racist, to be a nation of xenophobes, to go to war, to turn our back on the most unfortunate in our society. We wanted to be open and accepting–that has always been the American way. Yes, I know that there are still plenty of bigots and isolationists who would be happy to turn things back to the ’50s. But most people would rather look ahead and explore a world that has been waiting to be born.

And thank God, we have a leader who is ready to assist in the delivery.

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) Is Back

In Culture, Music on May 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

One of my all-time favorite records is Tea For the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. I was as mystified as anyone when he dropped out of the music scene and converted to Islam. The latest issue of Newsweek has an article about his recent reemergence in the music scene. Here is a 36-minute documentary about his journey.