An old friend once said that he used to be quiet like me, but that he eventually got over it and became more sociable. He pushed me to do the same, and told me I could change, as if introversion is something to be cured, something to get over, or something to work against. I was taken aback by his statement. I remember thinking at the time that he should have known better than to say something so insensitive.
My friend knew about prejudices. He faced at least two on a regular basis, one that he could hide from, and one that he couldn't: to be clear, he was both gay and black, and he grew up dealing with these two, natural "hardships". He was also my boss, and we worked in an environment geared towards multiculturalism. As I said, he should have known better. He was responsible for fostering acceptance at work, and he yearned for acceptance in his personal life. I didn't understand how he could be so blind when it came to me.
(As a side note, I should say that it may be far-fetched to claim that there's such a thing as a culture of introversion; yet, I can't help but think that there is. There are common misconceptions about introverts, as well as a similar way of being mistreated. We may not band together, but we still share a lot.)
I was more open-minded back then. Though I wanted to argue the point with my friend, I opted to reflect on his, instead. He seemed to think that -- with enough practice -- I could change. I, in turn, wanted to ask him if he could become less gay with enough practice.
I knew the answers intuitively, but that didn't stop me from trying to see if I really could change. So whenever I went out, I practiced being more social. I tried to understand what it was like to be what everyone else was. I tried to blend in, and to appear unfazed. I tried to participate, and to be "normal". Others who do this call themselves "practiced extroverts". There are even manuals written about how to change from an introvert into an extrovert.
All it takes is practice, they say.
What I say is that it's sad that this is how it is. Certainly it's useful -- practical, even -- to become capable at social activities, but I think we're all encouraged too often to practice the wrong things. Why should we spend our lives making ourselves into what others want us to be? Why are we putting all of this effort into changing into something we're not?
Why don't we, instead, practice getting better at being ourselves?