I just watched an INCREDIBLE TED Talk that I wanted to share but Susan Cain, called “The Power of Introversion”. Unfortunately, it does not yet have subtitles, as it was just posted this past week, so if you need to have captions to watch it, please please, bookmark it, and wait for them, don’t just pass this one by. Nearly all of the TED talks I’ve seen have been fantastic, but this one in particular is just absolutely amazing.
I love everything about this talk. As an introvert (and Autistic individual, and please note the two are often correlated, but not always), her opening story, about taking a suitcase full of books with her to summer camp really spoke to me. I was lucky, that at the camps I went to, we were allowed time to read. One of the camps I attended for years had MANDATORY “quiet time, in your own room time” after lunch for an hour each day. You could do anything you wanted during that time, as long as you did not make too much noise. Reading, writing, resting, and drawing, etc. were all encouraged. She goes on to tell us how her camp counselor made them all do a cheer about being “R-O-W-D-I-E”, and she says “I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why we were supposed to be so rowdy… or why we had to spell this word incorrectly” – which was exactly what I thought when I heard her recite the cheer. But that’s how our culture is.
I am not going to go through her talk reiterating her every point, because she does such a great job of it, and the video speaks for itself. However the fact that the western world values extroversion, charisma, and being out-going over quiet introspection is one that is incredibly relevant to my life, and to many other Autistic individuals’ lives. We may learn how to “pass” for short periods of time – smiling, and playing the social games, in order to be at least acknowledged and even listened to, if we’re lucky. But really, we’re simply stamped on. The goal of our “therapy” is to make us either appear to be extroverted, or to disappear completely. Because there’s this idea, that if you are not extroverted, you are worthless and will never succeed. And this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Being quiet, taking time to think and reflect, and carefully considering your options and their effects, is what makes for a better, more respectful world. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, that working in groups, and collaboration between minds, is a wonderful thing. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But there’s also a lot of value of the time spent between working with others. The time when you can really think and reason for YOURSELF, and not just the way the group seems to be thinking. Those are the times that big ideas really start to take form. As a scientist, I have really benefited from collaboration. But I have also benefited from time to think, ponder, and reason on my own. Both are valuable. We, as a society only value the former. Group work is really important, but we have to learn (and teach children) to think and work independently as well. Group-think can be a good thing sometimes, but it stifles free expression and individual thought.
There is nothing wrong with being alone. There is nothing wrong with seeking solitude. I want to end this post with a very beautiful youtube video, a poem called “How to be Alone”. We can all benefit from alone time.