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Personality Segregation or Not
What would a community consisting only of introverts look like? And is that desirable?
The title and content of a book defining a separate philosophy of life for introverts got me thinking. The author dubbed himself “John the Peregrine” and called his book A Kingdom for the Introvert. What would a society created by and for introverts be like? And would it be a wonderful place for introverts or uncomfortable in some way?
“John the Peregrine” harshly condemns the loud, superficial cult of popularity in a country that sets up group life as the touchstone of normality. An introvert society, he says, would involve “individuals combining to give all other individuals the strength to stand apart.” There, those who would elsewhere be misfits would no longer be pressured to conform. Social gatherings in such a society would not impose expectations “but rather [focus on] each member helping the others to become what they were meant to be.”
As I was thinking about this vision, I happened to pluck a book from my “to read someday” bookshelf that depicted a workplace quite opposite to today’s barely separated cubicles in which noise-sensitive individuals struggle to concentrate and in which water-cooler, break-room and after-work socializing reign.
In Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, author Kory Stamper mainly describes the arduous process of creating, refining and updating the definitions of words in dictionaries. But she also provides a startling description of the quieter-than-museums working conditions at her employer, the pre-eminent American dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster.
Downstairs, Stamper writes, employees in charge of customer service, marketing and IT converse as in any other office. Upstairs is the fiefdom of lexicographers, however, where a solemn hush takes over completely. The desks there have no phones. In this august group, “You must be temperamentally suited to sitting in near silence for eight hours a day and working entirely alone.” Holiday parties at the company are awkward because the downstairs folks whoop it up while the upstairs people murmur quietly in groups of twos and threes.
After reading this I wondered, would I thrive in that upstairs setting? Perhaps not. I love working at home, which allows me to concentrate quietly most of the time, then take a break when I feel like it and watch the news on TV or call a friend. In my late thirties, living in Boston, I began teaching at adult education centers several evenings a month to balance all the solitary time. Later, when I moved to a small country town, I volunteered to serve as town librarian ten hours a month so I could meet neighbors. As introverted as I am, I enjoy opportunities to interact as well as being alone.
And more to the point for this post, would I like dealing almost exclusively with other introverts in daily life? Again, I think not. I appreciate the challenge and stimulation of interacting with people from backgrounds different from mine. My extroverted friends are thoughtful, caring people who share many of my values while enjoying more togetherness than I prefer.
Rather than a “kingdom of introverts,” I simply want a society with more respect and consideration for those who speak less, think more and need a good deal of solitude. A society with less social and cultural pressure to behave and feel like extroverts. A society that recognizes that just as we have ethnic, religious, political and regional differences, we aren’t all psychologically in one mold – and that that’s a positive thing. Millennia ago, the Roman statesman Cicero had a vision like this, saying “What musicians call harmony in song is concord in a city, [with] the proportionate blending of unlike tones.”
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