Introverts, Peacebuilding, and Progress

Some researchers estimate that more than half of the people in the world are introverts.

I suppose that I’m pleased to be in a global majority in at least one category. Unfortunately, at least in Western societies, we are taught from an early age that extroverts win in everything they do. A great number of us live with some measure of self-disdain because we want to be more like the “popular” people and those who “light up a room” and energize a group.

Most dictionaries distinguish introversion and extroversion inappropriately. The definitions hang on words like “shy” and, in some cases, “socially awkward.” Others use the word “reserved” — a description that more closely taps into introversion.

Introverts appear to be more reserved because of the way they process thoughts and concepts. When they hear an idea, they want to hold it and then roll it over gently in their minds. They want to consider their responses and temper their opinions with good mental process.

That is not to say that extroverts don’t think well or contribute meaningfully to a conversation. Extroverts and introverts simply process thought differently. Of course, the margin for error increases for extroverts simply because they may “think out loud” more than the introverts, thus having those thoughts exposed before they are fully developed. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, introverts often lose the opportunity for comment and interaction. The conversation may flow past them before they are ready to speak.

I’ve had that experience. As a result, I find myself secluded a portion of my day, trying to think ahead about questions or theories or responses so that, when the conversation is in full swing, I can join in at the proper time.

Conversations aren’t all that predictable, though. I often return to my solitude with regret that my voice wasn’t heard.

It’s odd. When I draw a picture of a peacemaker, I color her bold and daring, outspoken, a leader without fear. However, when I encounter a peacemaker, I see her humble and meek. I watch the way others react to her words and actions and I realize, she could be either extrovert or introvert. The peacemaker has simply learned to work within the bounties and the limitations of style. And she has learned to maximize the tools she has in hand.

As we move forward, we need to involve every individual we can in peacemaking. I call to my fellow introverts to develop outlets for your thoughts. I encourage the extroverts to continue to use the vibrant energy they generate from exposure to others to excite and stimulate. At the same time, I plead with all to make room for the “other side.” The discomfort that arises in diversity is a blessing for growth. And growth — real growth — builds peace.

 

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