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The Massive Myth That Introverts Are Passive
Passivity means just letting things happen to you and not taking an active role in your life or the world. Introverts are not by nature passive.
“Introversion is characterized by reserve, passivity, thoughtfulness, and a preference to keep emotional states private.” Passivity? Whoa! This quote comes from a British website whose articles are all reviewed before publication by psychology Ph.Ds. Checked or not, this part of their generalization doesn’t jibe with reality. Let’s consider why.
A passive person lets things happen to them, instead of shaping their destiny in small-scale interactions or in their life as a whole. An introvert tends to prefer solitude more than social hubbub and values the inner, contemplative side of existence.
The traits of passivity and introversion don’t correlate. There are passive extroverts, who hang around people a lot and follow their decisions about what to do when. They rarely take initiative. There are active introverts, who have definite ideas about what to do when and implement them most of the time. They might be spending more time than average alone, as a way of furthering private projects or just staying content. That doesn’t make them passive. And of course, the other two possibilities exist, too: active extroverts and passive introverts.
With that said, I can see how this linkage might have arisen. Introverts don’t like to talk for the sake of talking. We may keep things inside longer than other people because we process events either on our own or only with trusted intimates. To others, this might look like going along with outside pressures, letting the winds of fate push us. But it isn’t that. In Thoreau’s memorable phrase, it’s us “marching to a different drummer.”
To keep the traits of passivity and personality separate, don’t look at reactions in the moment but rather the overall tenor of someone’s behavior. Does someone ultimately stick up for themselves, do what they believe in and prefer rather than what’s expected, and put in motion unique plans for themselves and others? Then they are not passive.
Never take silence or reserve as an indicator of passivity. Instead, it can reflect deep thinking. It can also reflect not caring about social trivialities, letting them roll off our backs. People who don’t talk much can propel themselves into a meteoric career, whether it’s “Silent Cal,” the 30th president of the United States, or film star and one-time mayor Clint Eastwood.
The same goes for people who don’t respond right away. Introverts often prefer to think before acting and take many beats longer than others to come up with the right words. It may take time for them to listen carefully, observe the circumstances and weigh pros and cons. Also, someone whose imaginative mind is galaxies away from the situation at hand can appear passive but is not.
The definition I quoted first off above fits with the stereotype many people have that decisive people are energetic, charismatic and fast-moving. Yet that profile might reflect someone who is impulsive – maybe even disastrously so. The introvert who moves and speaks slowly, without wheels turning in plain sight, might end up as rock-solid wise in their decisions and not passive in the least.
Passivity can show up as acting helpless, failing to defend oneself, apologizing all the time, expressing wishy-washy or no opinions and avoiding risks. All of those behaviors are either choices or conditioned by experience – not the inborn personality or temperament that lands one along the introvert/extrovert continuum.