by Janie Anderson
In 2020, we live in a world that is, thankfully, more open than ever to having honest discussions about things like race, gender, power, privilege, and bias. This is true in both the wider cultural context and within the culture of the church. One divider that is not as frequently addressed is the dichotomy in our society between extroversion and introversion. Although not as pervasive as systematic discrimination, this bias is still impactful.
Susan Cain is one of the foremost researchers on the psychology of introverted and extroverted personalities. She claims that Western cultures live in what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal,” and that it is a symptom of a deep-seated Western discomfort with sitting in the quiet. In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she writes, “If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’ –that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.”
With all of this in mind, how do we proceed as a church, a parachurch organization, or as a Christian in the workplace in a way that is inclusive of everyone’s gifts?
I am thankful to have seen a vision for this in many ways in my seven months with the Peninsula Fellows Program. Peninsula Fellows is a younger and smaller program than many of its sister programs, and this year our inaugural class consisted of five people. I tend to thrive more in smaller, more intimate environments, so having a small class of other comrades is ideal for me. I usually prefer a smaller group where I feel like I can get to know everyone well rather than a larger group where I may not have a real relationship with each individual.
People who are naturally introverted may not speak up as frequently in large group discussions, so I have felt more comfort than I otherwise might have sharing my thoughts in class discussions, roundtable dinners, and in our small group. I love deeper one-on-one conversations, so I thrive in meetings with my mentor, leading a small group of high school girls, having dinner with my host family, and getting to know the other fellows personally. A previous boss told me that while I’m perfectly capable of addressing crowds and acting outgoing when needed, he valued me as a leader for the qualities that I bring as an introvert: being comfortable going deep with others, and making people feel known and loved as individuals. I’ve felt similarly appreciated in the Peninsula Fellows, and the fact that the other four fellows also call themselves introverts has allowed me to notice and appreciate the same qualities in them.
That is not to say that I haven’t felt challenged in the program. I think as believers we are called to a healthy level of being stretched so that we can grow more into the people Christ intends us to be. I’ve grown a lot the past few months in my ability to network and navigate the workplace, gained comfort in situations where I might meet many new people at once, and managed a busier schedule where I am not always able to withdraw to recharge when I might want. But I know that I am being grown and pointed toward Christ in new circumstances.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that those who believe in Jesus are meant to be like many members of the same body to describe the way diversity within the church is beautiful and intentional: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Cor 12:17-20). This shows us that God purposes different people for different jobs within the church family by gifting them with different abilities. Not everyone is created to do or be all things.
Christians are lucky to have examples of strong believers who worked for God by being quiet, contemplative, and gentle (Moses, Esther, Jesus), as well as believers who performed God’s will by being enthusiastic, sociable, and bold (Paul, Mary of Bethany, Jesus). We function more fully and come closer to realizing the vision of Christian community when we seek to cherish the ways that others are like God in ways we are not, and appreciate the skills that all personality types have been gifted.
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If you are an extrovert looking for ways to love your introverted friend, neighbor, or coworker well, here are some tips: