In an opinion piece in Saturday’s NYTimes, author Susan Cain suggests that shyness and introversion may be evolutionary tactics, very good characteristics, in fact, which make one more thoughtful, more observant, and more uniquely creative. She counsels that our society, in which presentation and public persona count for so much, slaps the quiet introvert with a social-anxiety-disorder diagnosis too readily, often rushing hastily to medicate and monkey with his or her authentic nature.
In the animal kingdom, about 20 percent of many species are cautious introverts, or sitters, while 80 percent are exploratory extroverts, or rovers, who leap before they look. Each group reaps different rewards, at different times, in life: Sitters’ anxiety can sometimes ensure their very survival, while rovers’ adaptability frequently comes in comfortably. Cain says roughly 20 percent of people are full-fledged sitters.
Sitter people are both shy and introverted, to a degree. Frequently careful and astute, they learn best by observation. Rovers, meanwhile, make friends more easily, learn as they improvise, and embrace risks. The sitter child clings to Mom in a group setting, more aware of potential danger than other kids, while the rover shakes a tambourine and whoops it up. This rover kid is celebrated as likable, resilient, and well-adjusted.
Aiming to illustrate the special power of the sitter, Cain quotes science journalist Winifred Gallagher: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor ‘Paradise Lost’ was dashed off by a party animal.”
While official sitters may never be the life of the all-night party, I agree with Cain that we need our precious wallflowers. Consider the merit of meek Moses from The Bible, Darwin, Proust, Einstein, J.K. Rowling, and Eleanor Roosevelt, all shy and introverted greats with much to contribute. Certainly, we need our revolutionary rovers, too, outspoken, trailblazing, microphone-wielding folks like Oprah, Lady Gaga, and William Donald Schaefer, each the bearer of bold news, at extra-confident volume.
Do you identify strongly with one camp or the other? And if so, how can you best use your innate style to change the world, or at least improve your own Baltimore fishbowl?