December 18, 2007

My Introverted Self

My final review for the Shambhala Mountain Center Kitchen & Dining Hall Project occurred on Friday. Overall, it went extremely well. One interesting thing happened though. Duncan Case, the professor who will be my primary thesis mentor during my final two years of grad school made an interesting comment. He started out by asking how someone could bring the quiet, reserved, sense of calm focus they had just been contemplating in meditation with them to the dining hall. I misunderstood at first and I must admit I sniped at him. (We had spend hours going over this in studio with much misunderstanding and I did not want to go back there.) Actually, I had missed his point altogether. In understanding personality types, there are simply those people who would like to be a bit more private, more shielded – those people who always choose the booth in a corner when they go into a restaurant. How could I provide for them in my design? What kind of shielding device would not interfere with the overall concept?

“Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that,” I admitted.

“Of course not, you’re an extrovert,” Duncan blithely replied.

I was incredulous for a moment before I burst out laughing. “I score so far on the introvert scale it’s scary,” I told him.

“But when your write about it [the experience of dining at Shambhala Mountain Center] you always talk about the community and the conversations and all the people,” he pointed out.

My thoughts paused. It is true, I do that. But that is because it is extraordinary. If that kind of interaction was ordinary, my normal every day, I would not write about it at all. I remark on it because in that place I suddenly feel entirely comfortable exhibiting extroverted tendencies, living a life I can never seem quite comfortable in anywhere else.

I score a little funny on personality tests, sometimes coming up with conflicting results which end up with analysis starting with “Maybe you should take this test again when you’re not so stressed.” When a test asks me what I want to do, what feels natural, what I prefer, I score a complete introvert. When asked what I actually would do in a situation, I score extrovert. When both types of questions show up in a single test the result is usually a computer with a migraine and a psychologist scratching their head.

I remember, distinctly remember, in junior high (back before they invented ‘middle school’) sitting quietly at the lunch table usually in the proximity of the ‘lesser’ clique, but never feeling quite like I belonged there, watching the ‘popular’ clique and wondering about the division. I already well understood the difference between an extrovert and an introvert and which category I fell in. Yet it seemed to me like the popular ones were all extroverts. They all cared about what other people thought and felt, how other people saw them. They seemed to get along better. Teachers and other students liked them. They were included in activities. They would be the ones with the six figure salary and family in a few years. Never would you hear them say (including to themselves) “I don’t care what others think!” while resolutely burying the hurt at being teased. Moreover, they seemed happy, laughing and joking with their friends, not sitting quietly at the end of the bench.

I was resolved. I could do that. I could be that. I could be extroverted.

Well, I can’t, but that’s okay. I actually rather like who I am, I prefer being an introvert, and over the years I have, rather successfully it seems, learned to fake it. I joking reassure my professors and classmates alike “No worries, I can fake confidence really well!” The truth is that it is no joke at all. I can stand and give an animated presentation to a large audience, seemingly extemporaneously. I can chit chat and mingle and make small talk. I can joke and put other people at ease. I can commiserate and empathize. I’ve learned how to ask after others and then to genuinely pay attention to the answers. Basically, I’ve taught myself to care.

Well, it turns I am the poster child for Meyers Briggs INTP (Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving) according to Wikipedia. Moreover, this gentleman name Keirsey came along and added a temperament sorter and labeled that type “Architect,” which also appears to fit me to a T. How convenient, hey? (I even recently correct someone's grammer, though I tend not to do that in cassual conversation because I have learned people don't like that.)

Here’s the rub, the burning question that popped into by brain out of nowhere last night – am I an introvert because I think I am?

Well, no, I don’t think I am. At least, not according to my mother. According to her, even when I was a very little baby I never wanted to be held, not by her or anyone else. Feed me and put me down, that way my motto apparently, before I was old enough to know what a motto was. On the other hand, both of my parents are introverts. They were never the overbearing type. My mother recently labeled her parenting style “benevolent neglect,” as in, “let them do what they want as long as they are not hurting anything or bothering me too much.” I was not an overscheduled child, that is for sure. It all raises some very interesting points in the Nature/Nurture debate.

But ahoy! More issues! Is this whole line of thought an ego-trip? Am I trying to so diligently label myself and figure out what I am in an attempt to verify that I am in fact at all? Is this a self fulfilling exercise?

Well, the Buddha said to break it down. Am I my eyes? No. Am I my hair? No. Am I my body? No. Am I the question I just typed into my computer? No. I am my introverted nature? No. Am I my architect (future) profession? No. If you took any of these away, would I cease to exist? No. If any of these where all I had left, would I still exist? No. Hmmmm.

I think all I’ve done is gone and confused myself now.


TK said...

Introvert, extrovert, personality architypes... They all sound like a Jungian psycho-babble to me. To a not-wanting and not-caring buddhist, such samsaric personality analysis would be irrelevant, I'd imagine. Other than getting liberated from what such analysis concerns, that is. I think it takes a lot of confidence to be a buddhist, btw, to be an equanimous and loving kind person in any situation.

Monica said...

That would be my first thought as well. Then I worked for a wonderful woman who was an MBTI specialists and very deep in the study of personality and leadership theory. I can't deny that what I've learned from her about how and why people think and act the way they do has helped me relate to people. It has been especially helpful in difficult situations where equanimity and compassion has been called for. Certain methods (as simple as a hug) might be just the thing for an extroverted personality but may seem intrusive and uncomfortable for an introverted person. Knowing the difference and how to tell the difference has helped me act more skillfully to help those around me.

So, ultimately, yes, I would be immediately inclined to agree. However, experience suggests there is a practical use for this kind of study. I think of it as part of the boat we use on the journey through samsara. Once we reach the other shore (enlightenment), we don't need the boat anymore.