What Memes Mean: A Disheartening Meme On Introversion

 

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.

About Kirk Bozeman
  • http://paintedwithoutmakeup.wordpress.com Amanda Beck

    Kirk, I appreciate your insight. I did partake in the viral nature of this meme, and not that I need to justify myself, I have some thoughts. My husband is an introvert. Learning how to respect him in public has been a challenge–not because I don’t actually respect him, but because our temperaments are so different. I am the extrovert who says exactly what she’s thinking (working on this…) and who wants everyone to feel included, usually by making them talk and share their whole life story with me. Never did I ever think that making lots of friends was not on someone’s to-do list in a social setting–it’s just what you do. Take Zachary: in a large group, he holds back, listening and thinking. He loves being with people but can get overwhelmed with large numbers. We are wired SO differently. Okay, okay, you knew that introverts and extroverts were wired differently. So, what you say about these bits of advice being about respect in general, not just for introverts…maybe the issue is what these things mean to an extrovert versus what they mean to an introvert. Before being married to Zachary, I never dreamed that nudging him under the table would be taken as “corrrecting him in public.” But it sparked a firestorm of a fight that I will not soon forget. Of course, he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong in the restaurant, because we were in public, and he would never correct me in public. Honestly, I would rather him said something about it then, even if we were in public. Okay, so I don’t want to be ridiculed for misspeaking or anything like that, but a small confrontation like, “Honey, I don’t like it when you do that,” right then and there would have satisfied me, leaving more discussion for later. Oh, and I don’t really mind being interrupted in the flow of a conversation unless it’s a really serious topic and I’m being vulnerable. Seeing the meme with its bullet list of do’s and don’t's, I realized that other extroverts and introverts face a similar challenge as Zachary and I do, learning to love and respect each other. I guess that’s the reason I clicked “share”–and the reason that memes go viral…I identified with it, not out of condescension or superiority, but out of “So, other people have learned these things, too?” And then wishing that someone had told me all the things listed there. And then realizing that I had to learn them on my own for them to really matter in our interactions.
    There’s a book of a comment. And now my 6-week-old is waking up. Thanks for your post and for reading. Keep on.

  • Kim

    I agree that all people deserve consideration. However, I don’t see what is so wrong about having these guidelines to follow for people who are introverts. (They have the same for extroverts and other personality types.) You are correct when you say. “God created each of us with certain attributes, according to a sovereign plan and with a certain vocation” and as such, I would never expect them to change. So, having something like this helps me to respond in a way that is appreciated by someone with this personality type. Just as I appreciate when someone takes the time to respond to me based on my personality type.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    I tend to be an extrovert. I would like to think that #’s 1-11 also apply to me, and I completely agree that this is a condescending meme. Introverts should make one that says things like:

    1. Try to not get embarrassed when the blabber on about personal things that should not be discussed in public. They can’t help it.

    2. Don’t embarrass them in public by walking off when their laughter is too loud and designed to get everyone to look at them.

    3. Don’t roll your eyes when they start jabbering about how wonderful the museum is and generally flit from subject to subject when you are trying to enjoy a piece of art.

    4. Be patient when they speak before they think.

    5. Politely distract them when they go on and on. They don’t mind because it means they are getting attention.

    6. Try not to strangle them when they cannot formulate a coherent plan.

    7. Be understanding when they don’t finish what they start. They are easily distracted.

    8. Reprimand them privately.

    9. Try to be okay with them have twelve best friends. They do not understand the concept of a best friend. See #4.

    10. Don’t push them to spend more time in personal introspection and solitude. They will go insane and become completely intolerable as they cannot deal with silence.

    That was more fun than I thought it would be!

  • Lila

    As a natural introvert, I’ve developed what has been termed a lieutenant-at-the-door (Dr. Meyers-Briggs’ term for it) that lets me seem to be more extroverted than I am naturally and so I get by.

    Going through 23 schools from grade one to twelve was a make-it or break-it time for my introversion.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    My ex-boyfriend was a major introvert who also had anxiety issues. If he had been able to hand me a list like this, I (a natural extrovert) would have been able to avoid or know how to handle a few problems that popped up in our relationship. I appreciate your insight, Kirk, but I disagree that the list is unhelpful. When reading through it (many months after the ex and I parted ways), there were a few things on this list that made a bell go off in my head – things he tried to tell me about but never could find the words. Sure the list has its problems – as does any list that tries to generalize a large group of people – but as a person who often needs to be reminded that not everyone is like me, a list like this is EXTREMELY useful.

  • Adam Marshall

    Well put, Kirk – I admit, I’m guilty of shamelessly reposting this one so that my significantly more extroverted in-laws can have access to it’s contents, though I had a similar sense of the problems in its tone. I’m glad to have that sense confirmed here thoughtfully and clearly.

  • Blaze Master

    I find it amusing and frustrating on how much Introversion and all Introverted aspects of life including Ocultism and Introverted spirituality is looked on negativelly at this time …adleast in Western societies I used to find it more moderative in earlier culture, thought always one sided, that is all good guys are always Extroverted and fighting for the only one right cause (lets take an example of Transformers 3 I consider Dylan Gould and Megatron a bit of a good characters in the movie just as the heroe’s of the movie Sam, and the Autobots…. I really found it touching when Megatron looks at Cybertron overjoyed with the fact he saved it like trying desperativelly reedem himself from his wrongdoings , like Darth Varther “There was some good in me”I Think the way the Extroverted Carly treated him was cruell) and I generally dislike the US culture and the Extroverted material propaganda….. I think that good exists everywhere and there are many instances of good and positive thinks even the characters like Lilith or the Satan can have some positive traits in them ,and therefore I like Anime more a bit as Anime as a medium adresses the introverted state of things ..well its not about dis-couraging extroverts from promoting themselfs but they should be willing to accept our views and grant us equality …. In the End Introversion is more spiritualy based hence introverted values are mostly concerned with the spiritual.. the realm of thoughts and fantasies as well spiritual and more God based, than the materialism based world and wile both materialism and spiritualism meaning both Extroversion and Introversion can provide the same things they’re not quite the same and they don’t come into the conflict, the only necessary for Extroverts is to learn to not make it hard for us !


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