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Extroversion meditations

Last weekend it was the autumnal equinox. A bunch of friends gathered at my place to celebrate. Together we harvested potatoes and deep fried them on open fire. At sunset time we enjoyed a tasty feast meal in the garden. The table was lit with candles, luckily the weather was still somewhat warm so we could enjoy the feast in an unhurried manner, as the dusk turned into darkness. After the food we heated up the sauna and the garden bath-tub. People kept on adding firewood to the camp-fire - I think one of the best things in life is to sit naked next to a fire, slowly sipping some beer, watching stars twinkling on the sky, listening to your friends chatting and laughing.

The next morning people woke up slowly, one after one. At some point we discussed if we'd like to have the breakfast outdoors or indoors. It felt like the autumn had arrived, for the day wasn't quite as warm as it was yesterday, so we decided to eat indoords. While I started a small camp-fire to cook coffee the rest of the people went indoors to prepare the breakfast. When I came in with the steaming hot coffee I found all the breakfast stuff nicely arranged on the floor of the smaller room (the table in the main room was temporarily inaccessible because of so many mattresses were laid on the main room floor, and a few people were still asleep so we couldn't rearrange the pieces of furniture there). Somehow it is small things like these which make me feel warm inside - I mean, the way my friends participate; instead of merely waiting me to serve them the breakfast, they know where to find all the necessary stuff and collectively things get done smoothly with minimal need to organize. Spontaneous collaboration with practical things like preparing a meal or doing the dishes - those things make me feel more deeply connected with my friends. And everyone who has been following my blog for a longer time might know that not-feeling-connected-with-other-people has been one of the long-term central themes in my life.

Funnily enough, on Friday night there was a discussion program on TV, and it was about introverts and extroverts. They had invited a few guests to discuss the theme. One of the guests was Sanna 'Litku' Klemetti. I don't know but maybe the mainstream media sees her as 'The National Introvert' - the one they call when they want to interview a known person with introvert traits =) The discussion was slightly messy and unclear - to me it seemed that they were simultaneously operating on varying definitions of introversion and extroversion. Like, the common simple definition seems to be something like "an introvert is a person who is quiet, often wants to withdraw from company, and likes to concentrate on doing stuff in solitude - whereas the extrovert is loud and talkative and seeks to be the centre of attention". Then, one of the guests was a psychologists who said that actually it is not true that introverts want to avoid social interaction because they are quiet - in many occasions an introvert can be as talkative and engaging as an extrovert, but the key difference is that the introvert feels their inner energies drained by social interaction, whereas the extrovert feels their batteries charged by social interaction. (Well, of course they all noted that these categories aren't sharply divided, but rather it's a spectrum so that no-one is purely an extreme extrover or introvert, but individual people just fall on different places on the scale. During the program one of the presenters got characterized as an ambivert, falling near the centre of the spectrum.)

I think Sanna Klemetti was on point when she pondered that maybe it is not about social interaction in itself - but the question is that when you don't feel yourself fitting into the group, it feels uneasy and energy-consuming to be in a such group-situation. The way I see it; can we simply assume that all social interaction is the same, and some people find that interaction more energy-consuming than others? What if there are different kinds, flavours or styles of social interaction? Let's take a closer look at it;

Let's assume that every group and every social situation has their inner nature - I mean; things which are assumed self-evident by the group, things which are considered un/normal by the group, the way the group treats the individuals etc. Now, if you as an individual feel at home with those things, if you are aligned with the group values and views, then you probably find it easy to interact with other members of that group. But if you feel that there are things which feel natural and personally deeply meaningful to you, but the group treats them as unnatural, bizarre and condemned - then it won't be a surprise if you find it very energy-consuming trying to interact with the said group.

The most obvious levels are symbols and values. Imagine you are a person who likes to wear all black clothes and enjoys listening to hard rock music. And then there is a group of people who believe that black clothes and hard rock are symbols of Evil - the more they think about it the more convinced they are that it is not a mere matter of opinion, but a Truth beyond negotiation. And more over, they feel very strongly about it. Now you, as a black-wearing hard-rocker could try to rationally explain the way you experience the music and clothes yourself - but you'd probably face strict condemnation, your arguments would get invalidated by pouring "It's the Evil speaking!" on them. Well, maybe you could just shut up and try to enjoy other things with the group. After all, we people have so many things in common; we need to eat, we know how to help each others with practical things. You try that, no-one comments your taste of music, but everywhere you go you feel a burning sense in your neck, as you know that people look at you and think "that poor lost soul is possessed by Evil and is going to Hell - sooner or later we need to do some soul-saving by converting that person to Our Faith Which is Good." Then a stranger walks into the town and starts talking with you. You say that you find the social interaction rather energy-consuming. The stranger wants to offer help and says "Oh, I know! That is because you are an introvert! Some people are born that way, there is nothing to be ashamed about it! Just accept your introvertedness and it becomes easier to live with it!". What would you reply? Say that "Ah, thanks for telling - so it is all about my personality and has nothing to do with the way these people treat me?"

But this is not the only level. I'd guess we can also imagine situations where ideals and values are shared, but people have different views on how to express their views and opinions, how to solve problems. I think this is illustrated by recent news about Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux operating system. Linus said that after an accumulated weight of feedback he had realized that he needs to rethink the way he communicates with the other software developers working on the project. For when other developers make mistakes or write code which doesn't quite work the way Linus had hoped for, his feedback has sometimes been coated with personal insults. And now he has decided that this needs to change, that throwing angry insults at your co-workers is not a professional manner of communication, and is counterproductive. So, on a more general level; I'd guess here both Linus and the rest of the developing group share the same goals and values; they want to write high-quality code. But the disagreement has been about how to best make that happen - apparently Linus has carried a non-questioned assumption that it is normal to get upset when things don't work, and when you get upset it is normal to throw insults at the culprits, and that it supposed to help them correct their ways so that they'll improve. I don't know but I'd guess this is a widespread cultural assumption; that when others do bad stuff they need to learn a lesson - and an effective way to learn a lesson is to get yourself humiliated and insulted, so you quickly learn not to do the bad stuff again. This assumption seems to come with a cultural preference that shouting, bullying and insulting are seen as signs of strenght and power, that pure leadership is when you are good at mocking and insulting people inferior to you. Sometimes it seems that this concept of leadership isn't entirely alien to certain political leaders of the world. There's probably nothing new in that, personally I'd assume this concept of leadership dates back to when we were still proto-apes. And, if you ask me, this 'alpha-leadership' concept has not evolved a lot since the times of ape-men. Since then we have developed high mathematics and advanced technology, so why not - sure we could also see some evolution in our concepts of leadership and social organization? Now, I don't know but maybe there has been some small-scale cultural evolution taking place in the Linux -project. Back in the day only a few people questioned a boss throwing insults at the team members, as that was considered normal behaviour, or even an integral part of strong leadership. But seems like more and more people are starting to think that insults are sub-professional, and only serve to lower the morale, sowing distrust among the team. Soon the team members grow afraid of discussing freely, for they anticipate the scorn of the boss, and that starts to restrict the creativity, diminishing a sense of belonging, so that work turns into a mechanical chore and workers feel alienated from the project. If you ask me, that is not good for a collaborative project; we get better results if people feel that they can discuss problems in a friendly, professional manner. And that when there are problems they are together focused on finding solutions instead of merely trying to find a culprit to blame.

As a side-note; I think Linus Torvalds, in the news article I read, described himself as a person who is not very good at empathy. This, I'd guess, is one more classical stereotypical picture of an 'introvert software nerd' who is good at writing code alone but is rather clumsy when it comes to dealing with the emotions of other people. Again, to me it seems that this kinds of binary assumptions are (or have been?) surprisingly popular and widespread. "People who are good at sports aren't often good at mathematics. You don't need to be good at calculating if you can sprint faster than most of the people!" or "people who are intellectually educated tend to be emotionally cold and distant - but if you are an emotionally warm person you don't need to bother yourself with reading theories, for that carries a risk that you become more intellectual and start losing your emotional warmth". I find it rahter hard to understand if this kind of assumptions are based on anything other than mere prejudice. I see absolute no reason why a person, with a little support and some upbringing, can grow to master a wide sphere of basic intellectual, emotional and physical skills. On the contrary, the way I see it, becoming more emotionally warm and sensitive often helps one to become more intelligent and more creative. (And probably also helps to train your physical skills, if you become better at listening to and understading the wisdwom of your own bodily sensations, so you know when to rest and when to push harder with practice.) Hehe, but back to more personal discussion; for me, that kind of strong binary assumptions tend to be a thing which I find energy-consuming to interact with. Or, on a slightly more general level; I find it easier to interact with people who don't assume strictly defined categories, but are more open and sensitive to pick individual differences. People who, when facing unknown things, don't automatically assume that they can fill in the blanks with their pre-existing prejudices, but instead recognize what they don't know - so that they are open to learn, to discover and to find out to familiarize themselves with the things previously unknown.

Oh well, where was I ? Yes, I was about to say that when I think about my own problems with social interaction, it seems that over the years the process has been two-fold. First, things have been becoming easier as I've made friends with people who don't consider all of my ways ridiculous. Secondly, all the not-so-easy social interaction in my early life left me with social anxiety and fears, which have been affecting my life even when I wouldn't need them any more. In a good and safe company it has been easier for me to let go off those old coping methods, learning to be more open and present, learning to actually share with others instead of merely protecting myself from others. So am I an introvert or extrovert? I'm not so convinced if that dichotomy makes that much sense. I feel my energies drained by clumsy social interation, and I feel strenghtened by smooth and accepting social interaction. And I find it easy to be alone, every now and then I need solitude - but too much prolonged solitude and I start to suffer from lack of meaningful social interaction. Oh, I'm so happy about things like a breakfast shared sitting in a circle on the wooden floor of the smaller room!

The breakfast served on the floor of the smaller room.
tags: 
depression
diary
philosophy
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Comments

Hello! I dicovered The Unreal World few years ago but i was too closed-minded to play it and enjoy it but I loved Deep North feeling. Some Time Ago i found it again and im in Deep love now. I started to read your blogs and to visit your Elk site. I am form Poland, i am proud slav and i can feel that Finland vibe and nature pretty good,this is simmilar stuff to me. I Just want to say BIG thank you guys, im fighting with BIG depression right now and you crazy Finnish are helping me. Much love form Poland.

Hello and Thank You! Glad to hear that our work (and craziness) is of help!

Depression isn't always easy to overcome. Sometimes it seems that certain symptoms of depression also become causes of depression, so it is a self-maintaining state, like a loop where A leads to B and B leads to A and it is hard to find a way to break the cycle. Oh well, but of course I can't guess what is your personal situation and how do you experience it yourself so, anyhow, which ever way a depression manifests in your life I wish you all the best energies, good luck and persistence in finding all and anything which helps!

Hello, great article ! It makes me feel less guilty about all this introvert stuff and explains why I'd prefer I feel much more at ease around certain people :)

Dear Elma, glad to hear that the post resonated with your thoughts and feelings. Hehe, I hope one day we can all live in a world where there is absolutely no need to feel guilty about introvert personality traits.

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