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Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Work Of Being A Wallflower

Those eagle-eyed amongst you may realise that I am an introvert, as outright stated in this blog here about privatising and monetising the capacity for solitude.

I didn't know that about myself for a long time - or maybe I didn't have the language to articulate it, or maybe I wasn't aware of it as a simple personality trait as opposed to actual mental illness.

The thing about being an introvert - about not necessarily always enjoying being around other people, needing time away to recharge, valuing privacy - is that whenever we show up in a TV show or a movie, we're very rarely the protagonist.

This is all personal experience, obviously - the sample size is one, just me, and all the media I enjoyed as a kid. But then this is a personal blog, so I guess we can deal with that, right?

So I will perhaps reach out to my reader at this point. Cast your mind back (some further back than others) to when you were a mere youth, think about the cartoons, TV series, movies, books, and comics that you enjoyed, and think about how many of them featured - as a main character - someone who you now on reflection recognise as an introvert.

I mean - I can see why, right? Because a show or story is about the character interacting with people, and if you have the character dislike doing that or find it draining then it is hard to make them come across as sympathetic, so someone like Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory doesn't come across as an introvert. He comes across as an asshole - which in and of itself is part of the problem.

Not wanting to attend a social function or go out with your friends or be around people or entertain company was, twenty years ago, not considered an okay thing.

Standard child development includes the monitoring of their social skills. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily - I have interacted with enough people who aren't just awkward but lack significant social skills, skills which the rest of the world assume everyone has. What it does do, however, is normalise a specific way of approaching the world around you, and if you don't do it that way - well, you get labelled as one of the weird ones.

The thing is I don't think everyone is either an introvert or an extrovert all the time. I think sometimes people become more extroverted under certain circumstances - mostly needing time by themselves but having weekends filled with partying for example.

In my head, everyone sits on a scale.

You can probably work out what the I and the E mean.

Now, tests like the ridiculous Myers-Briggs - which is some kind of ludicrous scam based on the work of a racial supremacist - will tell you what personality type you are, and insist that it is literally what you are. You will never change. Not daily, not weekly, not once in your life. In fact, Myers-Briggs (I have to fight the urge to spit whenever I type this) states that if you ever take the test twice and get a different answer, it's your fault, not the test. Because nobody ever changes, ever.

Whereas I think that most people sit in a region like this:

Straddling the middle ground, sometimes enjoying being around other people, sometimes needing not to. After all, we feel differently toward company depending on if we're in a Monday morning meeting at work or on the way to our local on an early Friday afternoon off, right?

Whereas this is kind of where I see my own personal little scale:

It's very easy for me to run out of social spoons. The likelihood of that happening increases depending on how well I know the people around me, how drunk or altered they are, topics of conversation, so on.

Now, working in customer satisfaction and workplace performance as I do, there's a certain set of behavioural standards that a lot of companies wish their employees to uphold. Some of these are pretty basic - acknowledge that your customer exists, don't be sexist or racist at them, charge them the right price for the service requested.

Some of it, however, is the kind of thing that would weird me out in a social setting.

Eye contact, for example. Maybe this is the social anxiety speaking but it can be a very awkward and intimidating thing for it to be maintained constantly. We at work have had debates as to how much eye contact is too much.

Another thing - conversation, making small talk. I am hilariously bad at small talk. The idea of someone working somewhere being encouraged, if not slightly forced, to make small talk with me is not something I particularly relish. Now, sure, some people enjoy a good chat - but not me. I'm just here to get my stuff and get out, like a gremlin scurrying around an abandoned diner.

The thing is - I am far more likely to be put off by someone being way too full on and trying too hard, than I am by someone being quiet and socially awkward. I get the impression that it isn't really a thing companies see as a problem. Salesperson patter is such a common trope that I remember my dad describing people who were too overtly friendly as being like used car salesmen.

The world isn't built for us. The world is built for those comfortable with demanding room in it, and we... aren't, really. We want to lurk around the corners, hang out in the kitchen with the cat, sit outside and get some air, head home before anything gets too crazy.

But now, at least, we know that is just who we are. We're not broken, we're not faulty. We're just... us. We just need a breather sometimes, and that's okay. We like being alone, and when we spend time with others, it's time we want to spend. It's valuable. If your significant other is an introvert, I hope you feel a little bit lucky - it's like a cat picking a human.

You never know. Maybe one day, it'll feel like a level playing field.

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