Extroversion Is Not a Virtue

What’s with all the negative connotations of quietness? When did loudness—for the sake of noise generation—itself become a virtue?

While at a education training this week, we were given a scenario in which we might want to refer a student to a partner organization, so that the student could get a range of services: afterschool activities, counseling, family connection programs, etc. What was the red flag that was suggested to identify such a student? “Let’s say there’s a student who is just not talking. They’re not chatting with other students, not answering many questions, and just in general they’re being very quiet.”

In this quickly conjured scenario (which shows that the first thing people think of when trying to picture a “troubled” student is quietness), it’s clear that the act of being quiet is associated with poor mental health, disengagement, aloofness, and apathy.

Now, someone who is quiet may have all of the above qualities, but… follow me now… what if the student is just quiet? What if—heaven forbid—the student is being quiet so she can listen to others? What if the student doesn’t have anything ground-breaking to say at the moment, or actually doesn’t know the answers to the questions the teacher is asking (she’s being quiet and waiting to hear the answers)? What if the subject being covered in class is boring? What if the student is just tired, after 8 hours of the same mind-numbing bubble-filling that usually dominates the school day?

In my experience, if I have a student who is quiet in my class, I can almost assure that this student will be one of most engaged with the lesson I’m teaching, because this student is actually listening and concentrating. Students who are quiet analyze things, let things sink in, and process things on a deep level. They can do this because they’re not distracting themselves with small talk, or simply verbalizing every thought that comes into their head so that they can get points in “class participation.”

Susan Cain already made this point quite well: while introversion should not always be a crutch, extroversion should not always be a virtue.


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