In Defence of Introversion

Bismillah.

Recently, my uncle (R.M.) sent the link for the 16personalities test, on our family group chat. [Dear reader: https://www.16personalities.com/. You must.] Previously, I’d been trying to get him to take the test: certain people’s personalities can be intriguing; you find you want to know more.

This test (otherwise known as the ‘Myers-Briggs’ personality type test), I had come across maybe in Year Nine… or Ten? But when I discovered what my type had been, and that my aunt/cousin/friend Farhana is the same type as me, I became a 16personalities enthusiast, and got some of my friends, form class members, family members, onto it too. It is not the same as, or even comparable with, ‘astrology’, as some people would appear to mistakenly think at first. The Myers-Briggs system is awesome. And never had I felt so well-…understood, seen, until that time, when I had received those results.

Personally, I am an ‘INFJ’: more introverted than extroverted; more ‘intuitive’ than ‘sensing’; more ‘feeling’ than ‘thinking’; more ‘judging’ than ‘perceiving’. To understand the letters and what they stand for, better: https://www.mbtionline.com/en-US/Articles/2017/July/What-do-the-letters-in-the-Myers-Briggs-test-stand-for.

Introversion and extroversion, though: we had a lengthy (virtual) family discussion about this. I think I talked (typed) the most, then. Because as soon as somebody brings up something I am passionate about, in conversation, *cartoon sword-slice sound effect here. KHATISHHH or something like that* I can tend to talk quite a lot. Introverts are like that, I think, generally. And I find it quite wonderful.

Fourteen-year-old Samiha, for example (my Didi’s sister-in-law. Sister of my sister.) kind of reminds me of me, in many respects. The first time she’d come to my house, she’d been a little quiet. ‘Awkward’, even, as we’d both likely describe ourselves as being. She said she can get like that whenever there are so many people around. Especially lots of loud people, in one place: stimuli from every direction. So we both went and sat upstairs, in my room. I put my warm-light lamp on. And we just talked and talked. Samiha: the way she started talking, as soon as I brought up astronomy. I often hate when people use the C-word (c*te) for me, but I’m a hypocrite and I would definitely use the word, on steroids, to describe her. I showed her my astronomy-themed box of postcards. And I wrote her an Eid message on one of them. She looked at the picture on the other side, got really excited, and told me the exact (to me: confusing, alien-to-me) scientific name of what the picture was of [I, by contrast, am a very pretentious astronomy fan. I don’t know the exact names of many things. But… poetry, you know? Aestheticz].

That whole time with Samiha, to me, felt so… organic. Effortless, and wonderful, Masha Allah. Even though I am six years her senior, I felt quite ‘seen’ by her. We just… talked. Relaxedly. Moments of excitement. And she said that this had been “the longest conversation [she’d] had in a long time”. We talked about school; about science; about Islam. She, that evening, had encouraged me to go and pray Witr [a particular prayer which we are meant to close the day with]. That day, I had been really tired. But she encouraged me to overcome myself, in such a (firm but) gentle way: just do it, come on. I’ll stand right here and wait for you! So I did it, because: how could I not have done it? And now, when I pray Witr, I tend to think of Samiha sometimes: I hope she gets part of the Ajr for each time I pray it.

I really like Samiha, and Didi told me that Samiha really likes me too: apparently she’d gone home and put that Eid postcard on their fridge afterwards. I’m on her fridge! Yeeeee.

I would say, organically, authentically, I have these particular affinities towards people like Ranga Mama, his son Dawud, and Samiha. Also, in line with what the Myers-Briggs system says, the people outside of my familial networks, whom I have gotten on with relatively effortlessly, have turned out to be either fellow INFJs, or our (i.e. INFJs’) supposed ‘equal-and-opposites’: ENFPs. Very interesting stuff. Especially considering the fact that INFJs are said to be the ‘rarest type in the world’ [is that us yeah]… I’m just drawn, somehow, to fellow INFJs, and I think the same is quite often true, vice versa.

But we have to consider ‘opportunity costs’, here, too. I would say that I am someone who is very drawn to conceptual things. Themes and such, ‘the bigger picture’, instead of complete particularities. I (for some reason. Why, past me? For what?) studied Economics at A-level. A few things, I have found to have been useful from that whole course: the concept of ‘opportunity costs’ is one of them. The following line, I had to memorise. For exams.

Opportunity cost: the benefit lost as a result of foregoing the next best alternative.

The opportunity cost, then, of being an introvert: not being an extrovert. Which benefits do I necessarily lose, as a result of this? I think I lose: an ability to effortlessly be, with far more (relative) ease, before lots of (unfamiliar) people. I gain: my own ways of viewing, perceiving, the world, among other things. I think being an introvert is what helps me much with being a writer. [I’ve struggled with that word a lil, before. Do I call myself a ‘writer’? And… yeah, I write quite a lot, and I love to, therefore I think I can call myself a writer.]

The thing is, the way the world would appear to be decorated: extroversion would appear to be far more… universally valued, than introversion, no? It’s ‘exciting’ for one’s ideas of fun to be… clubbing, and being the centre of attention at parties, and loving going shopping for lots of designer makeup and clothes. Oh. But: it’s ‘boring’ for a person to love sitting with a book; with a journal and a pen, by the canal. It’s ‘boring’, also, to love, love, love, sitting with some food, and having a really good conversation with one other person, or two.

I think, what I have realised the most is that: introverts tend to have creative minds. Which means that things that others may seem as ‘small’: we — just look at that solidarity, there. We our minds, can make into ‘big’ things! Painters, writers, ‘homebodies’, little tidbits of intellectual stimuli: you take something ‘small’, a fleeting bit of inspiration, may-haps. And it becomes big in our minds.

And, as with all things in this here Dunya: there are upsides to this, and downsides. Upside: all we need to have a really, or decently, good time might be food; the right company; a place of some natural beauty. We don’t even need people: could be, a book, a YouTube video. Cleaning tasks (which I really enjoy. When I don’t feel swamped by them) with the right podcast or Nasheeds. A few things, made big, in these ‘introverted’ minds of ours, which (by nature) magnify. We need less, to do – and feel – more.

But guess what also tends to get magnified, in these here minds of ours? The bad things. The little perceptively ‘stupid’ thing we did last February. A comment that someone passingly made. Oh no! Dread. Things like that.

This is, in a way, my love letter to introversion. A thing of opportunity costs, and yes, do also remember all that stuff about images. You know what it is like to be you. Of most other people, we see only glimpses — images — onto which it is easy to project: for better, or for worse. Whatever it feels like we, and our lives, may be ‘lacking’: they ‘so evidently’ must have, somehow.

And then you get closer, and you see (closer to the) truths of things. I think I’ve realised that, yes, I struggle in certain big social situations. And, oh my goodness, ‘small talk’. Quite often, I accidentally zone out of conversations based on this stuff, and then I try to latch onto the last thing I heard the other person say, to not seem super rude. It’s a skill I seem to have honed by now.

I come from a family, (big, big extended-extended network) dominated, numerically and in terms of recognition, by extroverts. Or, maybe there are more introverts, but… they stay at home for a lot of things: who knows. What I have learned is that, yes, extroverts tend to excel in terms of how much fun they are able to have in big places, with lots of people. Lots of noise, lots of stimuli, sustained bouts of laughter at ‘most everything. And, also:

Quite a few of my relatives whom I would find myself comparing myself to, at times, in terms of certain social abilities: have told me that they are unable to be alone, at home, without being on the verge of a panic attack. They need to be online, talking to lots of people; they need people around them, to feel good. Things like this.

And then I realised: everywhere, in Dunya, there is tyranny. Sometimes, more evident, and sometimes: more subtle. The only true liberation that can be found is here: in submission to the Almighty.

‘Confidence’ before masses of people is actually… dependency. I’ve seen how many extroverts are before lots of people, and when they are, at home, in the presence of just family. Their ‘outer selves’ are contingent on others’ eyes; others do still hold social power over them.

Opportunity cost of me being the way I am: not easily being understood, accepted, socially valued, in many extroverts’ eyes. For them, shopping for bags, big parties and things might be ‘fun’. For me, let’s face it: iz torture. To many of them, I would not want to make them feel bad by pointing out that… talking about men’s heights, for example, for two whole hours is… kinda lame [and I have been given a very limited amount of time on this Earth, in this Dunya…]. But some of them feel super comfortable in pointing out that, for them, writing a poem or reading the ‘TLS’ is boring or weird.

My ‘extroverty’ friends and cousins are very, very active on Snapchat and Instagram. And… I suppose I used to be, too. But I would often feel over-stimulated, restless and stuff, as a result of notifications, and from all that s c r o l l i n g. To them (my extrovert-y cousins) the idea of staying at home for three days in a row sounds abysmally terrible. To me: my gosh. I love the idea of, for instance, cleaning my space; reading; annoying my brother; making food; eating food; doing Islamic things; sleeping. Bonus times ten if it rains. And some people hate their jobs. I think, although this gets tiring and stressful at times, I love designing lessons; marking, even. Making dad jokes; going to Tesco for lunch. With the right people around; in the right places and such. Everybody has to live through the ‘mundanity’ of this mundane world. Why not choose to locate the beauty in it, rather than making one’s enjoyment always contingent on [notions of] escape?

IKEA: the wonderful everyday. Beautiful mundanity.

So, who is living this life ‘right’, and who is ‘wrong’? Who should aspire to be more like whom? I think, there are merits to each way of being, of living. There are always other things to learn from other people. A lot of things I know about being, in social situations, for example, I would say I have learnt from my friend Tamanna.

‘Introversion’ and ‘extroversion’: to explain these concepts better, on my family gc, I told them about the ‘X-box analogy’. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. Extroverts can be extremely shy. Introverts can be quite socially confident [I would say, Alhamdulillah, I can be. Whenever my ‘social battery’ is fully charged.] It is all about where you get the majority of your ‘energy’ from.

Introverts are more like wireless X-box controllers. You charge them; you use them for a while. Then: they need charging again! Introverts tend to ‘recharge’ through ‘alone time’: sitting in nature; reading; Googling lots of random things, feeling ‘travelled’ and stimulated, in these ways, with a cup of tea on the side. Extroverts, by contrast, are more like original X-box controllers: for them, socialising is being charged. This is where they get their energy from: they don’t need ‘time out’ to recharge, in the same way.

The other day, I saw my friend Tasnim [again. Why do I keep seeing her? Why?! Jk.] and she reminded me of the story of how she realised that extroversion isn’t necessarily freedom in the same way that it might, prima facie, seem like it is. Tasnim and I had attended the same sixth form together, although we didn’t have any classes together. And at our school, there was a particular girl whom we both (i.e. Tas and I) knew to have been quite an ‘extroverted’ person; very ‘socially confident’. But one day, in a conversation with Tas, this girl had explained that, no. She isn’t actually ‘confident’ like that: she feels she needs attention from people like this. In fact, in her eyes, introverts are the ‘freer’, ‘lucky’ ones: more secure-seeming and all.

Also reminds me of when, when I had first started at sixth form, how terrible I would make myself feel about myself when… in my History class, I saw how seemingly-effortlessly everyone was, towards one another, from the get-go. Laughing so much with one another; jumping on each other’s backs. I thought, gosh, I must either be really… boring, or… not confident? In truth, I think, the answer had been neither. They were (seemingly) very extroverted in that sense. I… can only be like that with, say, three people in this entire world.

At this school, I had also been the editor for this school’s Journalism Club: I would receive submissions for the school paper/blog. Once, a girl whom I had seen as being a very socially confident ‘party-goer’ randomly sent in a feelings-piece, about how she ‘really felt’ about things. Super duper ‘appearances versus reality’. And experiences like this, hearing about others’ realer thoughts, have been eye-opening for me, to say the least.

P e r s p e c t i v e s.

See, you might be under the impression that ‘quiet’ people are… the ‘boring’ ones; ‘no life’, or whatever. Or, that the always-‘louder’ ones… have ‘more’, and ‘better’, to say; ‘what a life‘, admirable and want-able. Not necessarily always true: remember this much.

And why should I deny myself of who I am? Looking back on the ol’ teen years, the truth is that my best memories are not from things like school trips to Thorpe Park and stuff. I can’t help it, and why should I? They really are things like, when I got a sandwich, some crisps, and a drink, and sat in front of the TV to watch a Disney movie. And, when a book I had reserved at the library right near my secondary school had come through. Getting my ideas down for writing competitions: pencil on notepad, by candlelight. Things like that. So why should I deny myself of myself?

Just because of these comments, comments, comments. [Downside of having a massive Habee Gushtee (Bengali expression to describe everyone you know): the comments, comments, comments. “Why is she like that?” “Boring” “Come on, live a little.” “Old lady.” “You intellectualise things too much.” Etc. Value judgements. That feeling of actively, vocally, being put into a box. And what do you even do, in response to this? The thing is, this mind of mine frequently comes up with some pretty-good-I-cannae-lie comebacks. But I tend to leave a lot of those things unsaid: bite my tongue, bite my tongue. Because why would I say them (except for my own ego’s satisfaction, in the moment)? Ultimately, they have their values, schemas, ideas on what a ‘good life’ is; I am allowed to retain my own! I’m… not a child anymore. I need not look upon myself and this life of mine via how they have chosen to look upon me.]

Today, as an introvert, I want to say that the best parts of my day have been: finding the tuna pasta at Tesco. Some guy had taken the (seeming) last one, and he proudly told someone working there that yes! He’s got the last one. And I’d been on the side, looking at it, waiting to get it, actually. But then! A bit further into the shelf: another one, waiting for me to buy it! Does it make me a ‘boring’ person, to have loved this moment so darn much? I don’t, at all, think so.

[When I told some of my colleagues in the staff room about this, they, at first, had thought that the guy had celebrated his taking of the pasta to me. To be mean. But, no. And I know that if he’d done this, I would’ve said “good for you, I bet you’re proud of yourself” or something like that. Sometimes, I speak before I think, and the meanness just comes out.]

Sweetie had brought in a homemade lemon drizzle cake today. She sat next to me, and I had some of it, while the staff meeting went on. And, today: outside one of the school’s Qur’an rooms, I’d seen a big cardboard box filled with books, a couple of times. Today I asked one of the Islamic Studies teachers what they’re for. She said, the school is looking to get rid of them. I could take them if I wanted. I could take them if I wanted! I now have a stack of good books, Masha Allah, Alhamdulillah, beside me. Summer reading, Insha Allah. I just don’t know how I’m gonna take them all home today.

Summer reading: summer. Quite a few people have asked me what my plans are, for this summer. I don’t really like having ‘plans’ for summer. But I know that my time gets filled, one way or another. Some of the members of my extended family are quite spontaneous, adventurous in that sense. Randomly: get packed, we’re going to Scotland next week [after hearing about it, over and over again, from me!] Camping in Kent. Things like that. And I know that this is the stuff that people expect to hear about, when they ask about ‘plans’. Truly, though, I really want a homebody type of summer this year, Insha Allah. Running all these various errands I need to get done, seeing a friend once or twice a week. Sitting outside on the steps, to eat and/or read, while that whole ongoing theatre play of Faris, Saif, Sara, Sadika, and Safia goes on, on the stage. How do I explain this, though? Do I tell the truth, and let them think I’m ‘boring’, as a result?

Hmmmmm. Yes. Let others’ eyes be others’ eyes; let my own be my own. And I want to always respect other people, Insha Allah. But I am not living for them!

And even when we do go travelling and stuff: my favourite parts tend to be arriving at the hotels/apartments/such, going to cafés, going to museums, drives through cities. ‘Boring’ to some, because their minds need ‘more’. And they are they; I am I. Wherever we go, we take ourselves with us; introversion/extroversion, included. *’Spiritual hippie’ moment, here. You find yourself, suddenly, dear reader, wearing a white cotton tunic shirt, standing on a mountain. Welcome to the tribe.*

I think I have tried this before, though: having a very jam-packed summer or two. Saying yes to lots of things: night-time rendezvous[es] down the river; meet-up after meet-up; stays with family; things like this every day. Wasn’t really good for me, though it made my Instagram gallery pop for a while.

The things that I know I find great joy in: others are looking upon from their own eyes, and what they like/dislike. And what they think they want for their lives. To a lot of people, domestic chores are absolute tyranny all the time. Being at home with just family: unbearable. Sitting by yourself in a park: why would yeh? How could yeh? Having two close friends you see sometimes, in lieu of ten friends you see all the time? Why?! We’re just all different, I guess.

I love putting my earphones in, in the morning, ready for my bike ride to work. I do love those moments of speed; I’m glad I’m not overly concerned with looking ‘pretty’ in these moments. This joy from putting hand-cream on, after doing Wudhu. And! Writing blog articles in the staff room, when I have other things to be doing. Productive procrastination!

Just must accept truths, and find the good and beauty in them. Dunya remains Dunya, the whole entire way through. What I think we frequently do is this: mistake images as being truths. Like when celebrities – actors, musicians – are admired so much. They’ve got fame, money, realised talent, attentions from their opposite genders. And the thing is, we also know of their experiences’ downsides: all the myriad mental/spiritual health issues and such, which are part-and-parcel of such lifestyles. And, yet, we continue to think we want holistic life experiences that more mirror theirs.

It reminds me of a particular scene in ‘HIMYM’ (How I Met Your Mother) when Lily is lamenting the fact that she isn’t, can’t be, like Robin: ‘free’, beautiful in the same way, ‘cool’ in the same way. At the bar, flocks of men seem to approach Robin, but not her. Lily begins to feel bad about herself, and about her life. But then, Robin explains: can’t you see? Women like us want what you already have. A lifelong partner who loves us deeply and dearly: that security, that truth. Each woman had been seeing the other from afar, and thus not focusing their energies on the blessings that they, themselves, (necessarily already) have! [Okay, they’re fictional characters from a TV show. But, still. Life lessons that fifteen-year-old I had extracted from it.]

The other (other) day, also, at Nando’s, Tasnim had asked me the following question: do you know anybody who’s really, actually, confident? And… no. I don’t think it’s possible to be extremely self-certain, always, unless one is a… narcissist. How can we trust ourselves entirely, when things are always so entirely unpredictable, for example? I have learned this time and time again: that some people think me to be super confident. That I, instead, have looked at some others and thought: that must be ‘confidence’. And then these very people tell me about how, for example, they cannot walk outside alone, or without makeup: they feel too insecure. I have my own particular insecurities; they have theirs. Strengths, we both, all, have, in our own varying ways, also. Alhamdulillah.

Dear Reader,

What are the unique upsides of your particular Dunya-based existence? And, what are your downsides?

Who is someone you do, or have, compare[d] yourself to, wanted to be (‘most entirely) like? What might their upsides be? And, do you know, (yet, perhaps) of their downsides? [Some of their downsides, for example, might truly be a lack of whatever some of your upsides are. You might entirely just be taking your upsides for granted!]

Whatever is good about your experience: some, or perhaps even many, may choose to frame as being a ‘bad’ thing. Whether out of their personal insecurities, boredoms, ignorances, or whatever else. This does not make their judgements true. Truth is between Allah, and you.

I think I have more to say, but I find I don’t have the time or the energy, right now, to say them. But ultimately: Surah ‘Asr, and what it says. “Indeed, mankind [in terms of Time] is in loss. Except for those who have believed, and have done righteous deeds, and have encouraged others towards Truth, and have encouraged others towards patience/perseverance”. Our purpose[s] here are to be in submission to Allah; to be excellent, Insha Allah. Neither introverts nor extroverts ‘have it all’, and we are surely being tested.

Introversion, extroversion, and everything else: blessing. And test. Time, also, as well as everything else, here. Tools. What will we do with them?

Introverts, though: we do not need ‘saving’. We are… Dunya-traversers, just like you… who can handle, and enjoy, solitude [I recently read something about how many people cannot handle any solitude at all. Apparently, some see it as being indicative of you being a ‘very deep thinker’ if you are able to handle solitude without going crazy?!]. Introverts can make entire canvases, in our minds, of just a couple, or trio, of colours; some people need far more for those same mental artistic effects. Introverts are like superheroes. I’m not sure if this analogy makes sense, or how, or why, but:

Introverts Assemble!!!!!! [Six exclamation marks there, because six is my favourite number below ten. Above ten: it’s probably 42. I should just be quiet now. 6 x 7 is just so perfect though.

Why am I still typing?]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

3 thoughts on “In Defence of Introversion

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