American society is one that values boldness and strength, and the person getting the attention is most often the one demanding it. People are recognized and rewarded for being outgoing. Success and happiness are often associated with sociability and popularity among peers, while loneliness is often associated with introversion. However, a significant portion—at least a third—of the American population consists of wallflowers, of people who’d rather listen than be heard. In my essay, I’d like to discuss the value of the quiet ones, and bring attention to the household names that belong to people who were brilliant and introverted, such as Einstein and Van Gogh. One doesn’t need to be extroverted to be social, and one shouldn’t need to be ostentatious to be heard.
Loneliness is a state of being or mind. It is circumstantial, it is almost always negative, and it is also very different than being alone. Introversion is not just a choice, it is a personality trait and it characterizes the lifestyles of millions of people. In my essay, I would like to discuss the differences of loneliness and being alone, as well as the affects of both on many peoples’ health and way of life. To define and explore loneliness and how it affects people, I will refer to essays and research summaries written and reviewed by licensed doctors and psychologists, some of which can be found on www.webmd.com. In addition, I’m watching an hour long film released by Cornell University, titled The Anatomy of Loneliness, which outlines the effects of social isolation (real and perceived) on cognition and health.
The next questions I want to address are as follows: what is it about boisterousness that is so attractive? Is it just that the loud ones are the easiest to see, and people tend not to put the effort into understanding unassertive people? Ostentatiousness is unmistakable, but is it as valuable as it seems? Why or why not? Before I begin to answer these, I’d like to define “introvert” and “extrovert” and compare them and the associations with which they come. An article in Time Magazine called The Upside of Being an Introvert (and Why Extroverts are Overrated), available online from the Dickinson Library, outlines the differences between introverts and extroverts, and references many psychological studies of child development in an attempt to pinpoint what external factors may contribute to introversion. Similarly, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, includes many narratives from individuals that consider themselves introverts, as well as Cain’s views on why introverts are undervalued in America. She lists famous, successful, and highly influential people who were/are also “quiet”, and goes on to explain why dismissing introverted people is dangerous for the growth and success of America. This book, which can be taken out from the Dickinson Library, will be very helpful, because it includes first-hand accounts and explanations of what it is like to be a quiet person in a very loud community, and will help me to explain what it really means to be an introvert, and why it is just as (if not more) valuable as being an extrovert.
I hope that differentiating between introversion and loneliness will set my paper apart form other writing, due to the fact that it combines and compares two related, but very different concepts. I want to clarify that introverts and extroverts are both valuable members of society, and examine why it is that the latter is held in such high esteem, when so many of the worlds most famous thinkers, activists, and political figures were “wallflowers”.
Cain, Susan. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012.
In Quiet, Cain refers to psychological as well as neuroscience studies in her explanations of the differences between introverts and extroverts. Cain compiles her own experiences with research and tales from other people to determine why America undervalues introverts, and how that hinders society.
Christakis, Nicholas A., and James H. Fowler. Connected: the surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2009.
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
The Anatomy of Loneliness. Film. Directed by Cornell University. Ithaca: Cornell University, 2010.
The Anatomy of Loneliness is an hour long documentary film featuring John Cacioppo, an University of Chicago psychologist, as he summarizes his research on the effect that isolation has on the brains, the bodies, and the personalities of socially-deprived individuals.
Brock-Abraham, Cleo, and Bryan Walsh. “The Upside of Being an Introvert (and Why Extroverts are Overrated).” time, February 6, 2012, 40-45.
Goodman, Brenda. “Loneliness Linked to Death, Disability.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20120618/loneliness-linked-to-death-disability (accessed September 30, 2012).
Osterweil, Neil. “Putting Presidents to the Personality Test.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20000805/putting-presidents-to-personality-test (accessed September 30, 2012).
Parker-Pope, Tara. “Why Loneliness Can Be Contagious.” New York Times, December 1, 2009. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/why-loneliness-can-be-contagious/ (accessed September 28, 2012).
WebMD Health News. “New Ways of Looking at Wallflowers.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20011221/new-ways-of-looking-at-wallflowers (accessed September 29, 2012).
Zelenski, John M., Maya S. Santoro, and Deanna C. Whelan. “Would Introverts be Better Off if they Acted More Like Extraverts? Exploring Emotional and Cognitive Consequences of Counter Dispositional Behavior..” Emotion 12, no. 2 (2012): 290-303.