I am not sure how is it that I started reading & thinking about introversion. I did start 4-5 years back, but in the last 2-3 months, I have read extensively, including the well-known book called Quiet by Susan Cain. I have already written one piece on my own introversion, but this was mainly for adults. And then I came across this comment by my colleague at work:
You know, this time during my brother’s marriage, my relatives were telling me that my daughter must stop reading Harry Potter as she stays in an imaginative world and doesn’t like to be part of social gatherings and all. Even I started thinking that she will lack social skills if she stays with books for such long time.
The problems that introverts face actually starts in their childhood and as kids, without the right guidance and support, it is probably much tougher for them to handle the great social pressure to behave like extroverts.
Susan Cain traces the rise of the extrovert ideal from the late 20th century in America and how it has become almost indelibly imprinted as the ideal personality, not just in America, but large parts of the world in the recent times as well. I fear that Indians too have embraced this ideal. Over the years, I have had so many conversations with parents at Fountainhead School about their concerns that their kid needs to be a lot more extroverted. And then we need to explain the difference between being shy and being an introvert. And this comes from parents who fall in the whole spectrum of introversion to extroversion, which means that even the introvert kid born to the introvert parents isn’t probably spared the pressures of becoming better at “socialising“.
Let me just put this across as bluntly as possible. Let kids read books. Let them read on the train or on the plane. Let them read on the bus to school or in the comfort of their home. Let them read when that who-cares-what’s-the-name-of-that-uncle-who’s-papa’s-friend-from-someplace-&-family pay a visit home and definitely, most certainly, let them read during large parts of social functions. Stop forcing them to socialise at family functions & weddings, most of which are so mundane and ritualistic that they offer nothing interesting for kids (and many adults as well and I know for sure that the many adults are not just me, myself and I)!
It’s not exactly very clear to me what kids will miss out on if they don’t socialise, either at functions or otherwise. I completely get the value of vacations spent with cousins where there’s an opportunity to play and get to know each other, but that’s completely different from social functions which are far more restrictive. Children are essentially expected to dress up and tag along and make small talk with all kinds of random people, and then either be the monkeys on stage or else watch other monkeys on stage engaged in either some inane performances or else in some arcane rituals. And while I blindingly obviously have nothing against monkeys, but the reality is there’s a limit to how much monkeying, a person, especially a kid, and that too an introverted one can handle, right?
And what exactly are the parents fearful of? That the kid will become anti-social or shy by not participating in these soporific and rather pointless activities (at least from the viewpoint of that bored kid)? While no scientific study (as yet!) backs this up, but I am confident enough to claim that there’s no correlation whatsoever between the ability of kids to socialise at functions or otherwise and real-world success and happiness. Definitely, no positive correlation. I might, albeit, put my money on a negative correlation!
Coming back to this girl who triggered this post in the first place, I have seen this girl a little bit outside of social functions. She has no issues in interacting normally with her peers: playing games with them, in fact leading the games as well or in talking to her peers. I don’t see her as a shy kid, which might be a little bit more of an issue than being introverted. But considering that I have also seen her holding her own when needed, I don’t see her having much of an issue at displaying the necessary but not the superfluous social skills as and when needed.
I am reminded of myself as a kid. I would think that I was introverted. And I certainly loved to read. Much of my vacations were spent reading if I wasn’t playing outdoors. In fact, over one summers, I read a large portion of books in the kids section of the National Library in what was then Calcutta (an aside: but I remember claiming earlier that I had read the entire library over the summers, and later I changed that to entire set of books in the children’s section. Says something about the reliability of our memory). I am hoping that the current statement is probably quite true, that I did read a large number of books in the children’s section of the largest library in India. As I was new to Calcutta, I didn’t have a single friend other than a few cousins who I would meet over the weekend. But I was happy and extremely contented to spend large portions of my day in the library reading on my own. In fact, after 1-2 trips, my mom just let me travel from our residence to the library on my own using the famous Calcutta Tram network, where I remember being enthralled to ride paying just 10 paise (and this is the kind of nostalgic reminiscing where you have no choice but to say, “ahh, those were the days.”)
Much of what I have learnt about what it means to be human, I have learnt from books. And introverts who read have a double advantage in this: not only do they read and engage with complex themes, actions and emotions in any decent book that they read, they are also better observers of people as they listen a lot more that they talk. Personally, I think this positive double whammy has helped develop my emotional quotient a lot. And of course, reading has many positives in the academic context. My reading skills helped me get through the tough CAT entrance examination for IIMs, which were better than my maths skills at the time, to my own surprise. Those who read well are also likely to be above-average performers academically, and the ones at the top are very likely to be readers.
Adults, of course, are still not easily convinced, acting as they do out of their own conditioning and paradigms. When I recently went on a school trip with Grade 7 kids, there were a few who read to keep themselves busy when there was some free time, or when travelling. I saw some of the other kids pulling their legs (and not just figuratively), but I also saw some adults commenting that these 2-3 kids are reading all the time in a sort of a condescending manner, which wasn’t true really as they were participating in the activities. Often these are the kind of adults who themselves don’t read that much, which unfortunately is a lot of people.
But I would say to all the naysayers and to the parents of the kids who read, let the kids who read stay in their imaginative world. It’s a far more meaningful world anyway in ways that matter. Let them be introverted – don’t parent out of fear; there’s nothing wrong with the kids enjoying their own company, or being deeply immersed in a fantasy world. Of course, ensure that they are getting sufficient physical activity and they enjoy the company of a few friends.
Yes, they may not be gregarious or outgoing but in any case, the world needs introverts as much as the extroverts or perhaps even more. These are the kids, who when they grow up, are more likely to, understand the people & the world much better. They are more likely to be adults who know themselves much better. And there’s great value in that, to themselves and to the world at large.
So, let them look inwards a lot more than looking outwards. Let them ask questions. Let them think too much. Let them read books. Just, let them be.