Each Wednesday in What Memes Mean, Kirk Bozeman questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.
My mother has often mentioned that as a boy I would abscond to my room for hours at a time, where she would later find me quietly absorbed and entertaining myself to no end with my set of plastic “cowboys and Indians”. She then usually notes with a chuckle that my sister was “not like that”, she was always asking what we were “going to do next”.
I was an introvert from birth, one of those strange people who “enjoys being alone”. But growing up with an introverted temperament in today’s culture is tricky and frustrating business. The strengths of the introvert tend to be overlooked or ignored, at worst being labeled as some sort of neuroses in need of correction.
But in recent years I have read a number of articles (especially this excellent front-page piece from Psych Today and this Scientific American article) and a few books that have treated introversion with wonderful understanding and respect. I hoped we were moving forward in overcoming our stigmas related to the temperament, but two steps forward, one step back: I found the minor prevalence of this JPEG meme deeply disheartening. It has enjoyed some viral popularity of late, which means that many agree with it and are taking it very much to heart.
The problem I have with the “temperamental wisdom” presented by the meme is threefold. First, it is generally (though granted unintentionally) condescending in tone, treating introversion as a borderline neuroticism in a number of its points, as something in need of major patronization and external assistance.
Secondly, a number of these bits of advice seem to not be issues of personality type, but simple issues of loving others and being kind. Please, respect everyone’s privacy. Never embarrass anyone in public. Except in special situations, reprimand and instruct everyone privately. It’s considered kind not to interrupt anyone. Perhaps these apply more immediately to many (not all) introverts, but I’m unclear as to why these are “special insights into introversion”.
Lastly — and this is a strange, new development I have not seen before — to my dearest fellow introverts: you can’t require that the world bend to your temperament. I know the real frustrations and pain of feeling often misunderstood, but there is a big difference between asking others to show sensitivity and selfish neediness. Learn how to handle changes and large social situations, learn to make friends and speak your mind. This is not something you can require others to do for you. I know countless introverts who would never dream of demonstrating the social neediness exemplified by this meme, and I’m not sure where this demand is even originating from.
God created each of us with certain attributes, according to a sovereign plan and with a certain vocation, “[making] from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). Temperament is an integral part of this calling, a fascinating divine ordainment. It is something to be praised, properly understood, and developed, and never an excuse to avoid personal growth.
This meme illustrates a frustrating misunderstanding of many of the qualities of introversion, painting them with a level of neediness that is much more aligned with base immaturity than the particular personality type in question. I was hoping that our culture was getting over some of its stigmas. But then a meme like this pops up, and I’m disheartened once again.